Thursday, October 8, 2009

How a tale of two schools ends

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced tonight at its 7 p.m. news conference that Cardinal Dougherty High School and Northeast Catholic High School would close at the end of the current school year, June 2010.

The archdiocesan schools boast a long and proud history, serving the heavily Catholic North Philadelphia neighborhoods that today lack the numbers of families to sustain the large buildings.

Cardinal Dougherty, located in the Olney section, and Northeast (commonly known as “North”), in Frankford, at one time boasted some of the largest student bodies of any Catholic high school in the world. CD packed almost 6,000 students into its halls in 1965, while North enrolled almost 4,500 in 1953.

Today those big physical plants are largely underutilized. Each has student populations that fill only about a third of the building's capacity.

At the press conference Bishop Joseph McFadden cited the key reasons for the recommendation of a strategic planning study, and they are not hard to understand. The buildings are underused but still must be heated throughout and maintained, making them costly. And retrofitting them for contemporary usage, such as for technology needs, becomes exceedingly expensive.

Underlying it all, despite heroic efforts to raise money for scholarships, is the stark fact that enrollments keep dropping. The huge numbers of Catholic families in the North and lower Northeast Philadelphia areas that built the enormous student populations of the past simply are not present today. Sadly, few alternatives exist to the decision that was announced tonight.

Check the Catholic Standard & Times at for updates on this story. And for comprehensive coverage and a retrospective, don’t miss the weekly newspaper’s Oct. 15 issue.