Thursday, June 27, 2013

June is the cruelest month

This month marks the death of two old and beloved North Shore Catholic schools: Immaculate Conception and St. Joseph's.

In what little I'd seen of Immaculate Conception, I wasn't completely surprised by that decision, even though it seemed like they had a caring teaching staff, and a large student body who really loved their school and were enthusiastic about their education. After all,  the neighborhood is considered "low-income" and the student body is predominantly, if not completely, African American and Latino, which translates into tuition assistance schemes and high non-Catholic enrollment. The school simply couldn't support itself.

I was more surprised by the closing of St. Joseph, which is in the heart of still heavily Italian Rosebank. According to the article, the school only had 170 students. According to this article, when nearby St. Mary's school closed last year, "many" of the 57% of parents who chose to keep their children in the Catholic school system chose to send them to schools in New Dorp, Dongan Hills and Oakwood, rather than send them to St. Joseph's, which is just up the street. Why?

Was it because parents suspected that St. Joseph's would be next on the chopping block? Or was there some issue with the pastor or the principal (negative, but vague, comments about both seem to fill the comments section). I noted the lack of attendance and apathy at Mass there when I went. Certain comments in the silive articles state that the pastor notified the people of the situation for years and begged for help but no one did anything. The comments also say that parents were resentful about having to help out at Bingo and at school fairs. The previous article also noted that many of the student body come from "economically disadvantaged homes." Is there an angle to the story that we're not being told? What has happened to Rosebank? Does this "close-knit" Italian community only consist of nonno and nonni these days? Have the young people fled, which is what happened to so many North Shore communities and inner-city neighborhoods all over America? Can anyone enlighten us as to what is going on at St. Joseph's and in Rosebank?

Now the Cardinal has announced that St. Joseph's, St. Mary's and Immaculate Conception will be put under the leadership of one pastor, the Rev. Victor Buebendorf, the current pastor of St. Mary's who is most known for conducting an annual ecumenical Palm Sunday service with the nearby Episcopal church. Google tells us that he has an interest in liturgical music and is, or was, a member of the Staten Island Council of Churches, specializing in interfaith dialogue. The Cardinal is acknowledges that the 3 churches "will be working together to determine their future viability" over the next year and a half, after which it is possible that one or all of them may be closed. So my question is what will this man- who couldn't save his own parish's school and whose main focus seems to be ecumenical games- do to revitalize these three parishes before the Cardinal makes his final decision on January 1, 2015? Does he have a plan? Does anyone have a plan? Or a clue?

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