PITTSBURGH - This school year, parents have two less Catholic schools to choose from in the Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese. They both closed over the summer, but the diocese said these closures would help strengthen the Catholic school system.
"At first it was difficult you know having families worry about going to school," said Blessed Francis Seelos Principal Robert Reese. "What's next year going to look like? Who are my teachers going to be?"
Reese is the principal of Blessed Francis Seelos, the Catholic elementary school that formed when St. Alexis and St. Alphonsus merged in 2017.
"But once we came together we formed a whole new community family that basically is bonding and creating new traditions," said Reese.
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This year, the school is going into its third year, and Reese said enrollment is up. The school has a 43-student kindergarten class. Blessed Francis Seelos was part of the first round of mergers within Pittsburgh Catholic schools.
Closing a Catholic school is a decision that is made by a regional board and then ultimately by the bishop. Enrollment in Catholic schools has dwindled over the years.
"To deliver Catholic education in a very sustainable manner which enabled us to have the same curriculum, you know we had groups share resources," said Regional Catholic Education North Hills board member Jane Ann Regan.
This summer, the diocese decided to close both St. Raphael's in Morningside and St. Sylvester's in Brentwood.
St. Elizabeth Principal Leslie Krueger's school in the South Hills is taking many of the St. Sylvester's students.
"Really comforting them and that is all I can really do for them at the present moment because there are so many emotions that are attached to this closing," said Krueger.
A regional board which is compromised of both clergy and lay personnel made that decision. There's a new one in the east, one that's been in the north for three years. The next regional board will be formed in the south and northwest and eventually one in the city center.
Watch all of our Back to School content on the WPXI-TV YouTube page. Secretary for Catholic Education and Evangelization Anna Torrance said they must focus on the future.
"Looking forward we don't want to manage decline," said Torrance. "We want to sustain our schools so that this is an option for children in all of our communities, our six counties going forward."
Before the mergers in the north, some class sizes were only eight to 10 students, and some had a disproportionate amount of girls and boys. But now, the average class size is 15 to 18, which the diocese says is a good number for student academics.
To find Catholic schools in the Pittsburgh diocese, click HERE.
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