Community rallies in support of Catholic school

St. Joseph School in Millbrook is facing the possibility of being shut down by the Archdiocese of New York, as it is one of 26 Catholic schools on an “at risk” list. The 26 at risk schools are among 159 regionalized, parish and archdiocesan elementary schools in the state nominated for possible closure in June of 2013. But rather than panic, the school is doing its best to remain calm, organize its resources, partner with parents and do whatever it can to convince the Archdiocese that it’s worth keeping in operation. (For further details read story on Page A1.)

All the while St. Joseph is continuing to do what it has built its reputation on — educating its students and encouraging a dynamic and creative environment where they can learn and grow. What’s so heartening is that the school is doing so with a positive attitude and focused determination.

Catholic schools have traditionally been funded through the parishes as well as tuition. A strategic plan entitled Pathways to Excellence was completed in 2010, highlighting the need for additional funding solutions. At issue was debt incurred by the New York Archdiocese with an accumulated $22 million in unpaid bills, the result being that 27 Catholic school were closed in 2010 — reportedly reducing the deficit by $10 million.

However, the $700,000 it costs annually to support St. Joseph may be considered too steep for the Archdiocese after further reviews are conducted. That’s why parents and community members are getting involved, spreading word of a plan masterminded by the pastor to raise $5 million in the next five years.

The goal is to get 500 pledges from community members in the amount of $2,000 per year for the next five years. The catch is these pledges must be collected this month, by Christmas-time. The Archdiocese will announce its decision by early January.

St. Joseph is an important part of the Millbrook community, as well as a vital resource for northeastern Dutchess County. It is the only Catholic school east of Millbrook, serving seven school districts with many students from the Harlem Valley. Its students, teachers, administration and other staff form a tight-knit community that clearly sticks together during tough times.

The loss of such an institution would be hard for many local families seeking a Catholic education, though certainly religious schools seem to be more of a relic these days than the norm. For many it’s important that the teachings of the Catholic church remain available. Parents can opt to enroll their children in a Catholic school or not, but once that choice goes away, it will likely be gone forever. That would be a true loss, and one St. Joseph and its supporters are hoping to prevent. To help in that quest, call St. Joseph Principal Rosalie Fegan at 845-677-3670.