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Paterson NJ Diocese faces financial crisis (Catholic Caucus) ^ | Wednesday, April 2, 2008 | JOHN CHADWICK

Posted on 03/02/2009 4:02:15 PM PST by Coleus

The Paterson Diocese is facing a financial crisis after years of subsidizing struggling parishes, schools and charitable programs, church officials said Wednesday. The diocese said it has accumulated $37 million in debt, and is deciding how to downsize its vast network of urban and suburban ministries that serves 378,000 Catholics in Passaic, Morris and Sussex counties.

"Like any family, we cannot afford to live beyond our means," the Rev. James Mahoney, the vicar general, and second-ranking cleric in the diocese, said in a statement. "In the past, the diocese functioned as a safety net for parishes, schools and agencies that could not meet their budgets. While that financial process worked on a short-term basis, over the long term it has hurt the financial health of the diocese."

Mahoney said some parishes, schools and Catholic Charities programs could be closed, though no decisions have been made. Pastors of the 16 Paterson parishes have begun meeting to discuss ways to consolidate their ministries. They have until June to come up with recommendations. Monsignor Thomas J. Coletta, a veteran city priest, said the current network of ethnic, neighborhood parishes was developed generations ago and needs thorough review.

While a sizable Catholic community still exists, the industrial base has been battered, and well-paying manufacturing jobs are scarce. Parishioners are struggling with the high cost of living in North Jersey and can't support a parish and parochial school system built for a booming post-World War II generation, he added. "It's something we have to honestly look at," said Coletta, pastor of Our Lady of Victories. "If I'm a pastor, and you're a pastor, and we're all doing the same thing, and we are practically next door to each other, then that's bad stewardship. If we're pumping a ton of money into half-filled buildings, that's bad stewardship."

Meanwhile, suburban pastors said they're also feeling the pinch. A Morris County priest said his church is closing its school at the end of the school year because of declining enrollment and the parish's inability to subsidize its operations. "Our parish income has gone down," said the Rev. John DeMattia of St. Mary's Church in Wharton. "Our Sunday offerings have been going down."

The diocese isn't alone in its troubles. A shift in the Catholic population from cities to suburbs, and from the Northeast and Midwest to the Sun Belt, is creating painful realities for other Catholic communities. Nationwide, the number of Catholic schools has dropped 10 percent since the 1996-97 school year, according to the National Catholic Educational Association. The number of parishes has dropped 3 percent since 1995, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, a research center at Georgetown University.

The Newark Archdiocese — which includes Bergen and Hudson counties — began a program several years ago to review all its parish and school ministries and determine which programs could be consolidated. Yet the picture is very different in Houston, where on Wednesday, the Archdiocese of Galveston and Houston dedicated a $50 million cathedral.

"That's the best symbolic indicator of what has happened," said Francis J. Butler, president of Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities. "It's a different reality in other parts of the country." The Paterson Diocese said its financial picture began darkening a decade ago. Since then, it has spent all of its reserves and then borrowed money to pay for deficits in parishes, schools and other agencies.

That includes Catholic Charities, which operates programs at 84 locations. Some of the diocesan high schools have accumulated significant debt, including Paterson Catholic, with more than $4 million; Morris Catholic in Denville, $2.4 million; and DePaul in Wayne $795,000. About $3.1 million in debt is still on the books for the Bayley-Ellard school in Madison, which closed in 2005.

Diocesan officials say the example of Paterson Catholic is instructive. The tuition is $5,500, but the school collects an average of $2,700. The per-pupil cost is $10,000. "The tuition model no longer works in inner-city schools," Mahoney said. "Per capita income is too low ... to pay significant tuition."

The diocese also acknowledged in a separate statement that it has paid $12.8 million to settle sexual abuse claims. That money was paid from "excess revenue" generated from its self-insurance funds, the statement said. "The payment of the costs for sexual abuse settlements came from diocesan insurance reserves," the statement said. "It is important to note that no donations, including the Bishops Annual Appeal, and other capital campaigns, were used for any settlements."

TOPICS: Catholic; General Discusssion
KEYWORDS: catholicschools; patersondiocese
Catholic dioceses put new emphasis on managing costs


Thomas J. Barrett was starting his first day as chief operating officer of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Paterson when he got a taste of the challenges in store for him.  The phones in the Clifton office barely worked. The computer system was so poor that it sometimes took days for e-mails to arrive at their destination.   "I was surprised," Barrett said. "I figured I'm coming to the diocese, and this was going to be a Cadillac operation."   Replacing the computer and telephone systems was easy. But a more daunting challenge looms: restoring the financial health of the diocese, which covers 378,000 Catholics in Passaic, Morris and Sussex counties, and is $37 million in debt.

Barrett is the first COO in the diocese's 70-year history, and his arrival late last year served notice of a sea change at the diocese and for Catholic communities nationwide.   For Barrett is both a layperson and an executive in an organization dominated by clergy. And he's expected to encourage sound business practices in a workplace where the Bible is more prevalent than Barron's.  "We have to live within our means," he said in an interview. "We cannot increase the debt."  Barrett's hiring reflects an emerging school of thought that sees the Catholic Church in America at a crossroads, faced with complex problems that require the type of management skills that are typically taught in business schools, not seminaries.

"These [financial issues] have come together for the perfect storm for these dioceses, and they are going to have to look at the way they do business," said Francis J. Butler, of the group Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities, or FADICA. "You are going to have to use modern management methods of finding out how to make your mission affordable and where to deploy your people."  The church, at least in the case of Paterson, is accepting the need for change.  "The bottom line is that we need to get efficient in business practices, so we have the resources to focus on what we do best, which is evangelization," said Marianna Thompson, a spokeswoman for Paterson Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli, who hired Barrett.

Barrett's hiring doesn't change the power structure of the diocese: Serratelli still sets the agenda, assisted by a vicar general and a chancellor - positions that are filled by Monsignor James Mahoney and Sister Mary Edward Spohrer respectively.  But Barrett could play a significant role in the bishop's decision-making by injecting a dose of fiscal reality into a diocese that has its share of struggling parishes and schools.  For now, he has his work cut out for him. Since replacing the antiquated computers and phones, he is also facing an archaic accounting system.  "We haven't had even a great handle on the financial situation because of our accounting structure and budgeting - we did it more the old-fashioned way," said Barrett, whose previous job was managing a Catholic Charities agency. "It doesn't give us the to-the-minute data that you need to really manage well. That's a challenge. We're putting it into place. We're fixing it right now."

Paterson is one of about 30 dioceses nationwide to have made significant changes aimed at creating a more professional operation, said Butler, of FADICA.  "The change is that you are getting more of the MBAs, or person who has the experience managing a company or business," he said "It be may be a bit more professional."  An official at the Newark Archdiocese, which covers Bergen, Hudson, Essex and Union counties, said the archdiocese has also been working to establish a culture of accountability.  "The understanding now among the people here is that our customers are the people in the pews," said Joe Dwyer, a deacon, and the vice chancellor for administration. "That's who we are serving."

The diocese's new approach was sparked by its association with a lay-run, independent organization that emerged after the clergy abuse crisis. The National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management wants to help the church become more professional in the handling of finances, human resources and other secular concerns.   "The church is not a corporation, but it has people and finances and they deserve to be managed well," said Kerry Robinson, the round table's executive director. "We are bringing executives with a senior level of experience who care a lot about the church, and they are coming together to creatively brainstorm on how the church can meet contemporary challenges."  Those challenges are daunting.

Catholic parishes are in physical disrepair. Parochial school enrollments are dwindling. And in urban centers, parishioners are struggling, working-class immigrants who are frequently unable to support the church, or come from countries where parishes received government support.  The Diocese of Camden, which covers six counties in southern New Jersey, announced a plan earlier this year to reduce the number of parishes from 124 to 66 through a series of mergers.  The Paterson Diocese hasn't finalized a plan, but some degree of downsizing is expected.

More school mergers not ruled out by new head


The new head of the Catholic schools in Passaic, Morris and Sussex counties said he would not rule out more elementary school consolidations but held out hope that the four remaining high schools in the Paterson Diocese might actually grow.   "Especially in the parish elementary schools we've seen a period of consolidation and I don't see that changing in the near future," said John Eriksen, hired as superintendent of schools by the diocese in late September. "I would like to see the same students in fewer buildings."   Eriksen is at the helm of a system that serves 14,750 students in 52 schools in the three counties that make up the diocese. At 34, he is believed to be the youngest Catholic schools superintendent in the country.

Nationally, Catholic schools have seen enrollment drop by more than half from the boom years of the 1960s and 1970s. The same has been true in the Paterson Diocese, where consolidations and cutbacks have ensued over the past two decades.   Donors stepped in last year to save Paterson Catholic Regional High School from closing, and the other three secondary schools also struggle under the weight of debt. But during a recent interview at his offices on Valley Road in Clifton, Eriksen was sanguine about the future of the high schools. "We're working very hard to make sure Paterson Catholic is viable in the long term," Eriksen said. "We're trying to get to the point where year-to-year is not the case."

Eriksen said DePaul High School in Wayne, with an enrollment of 900, now has a waiting list. "We would love to increase our capacity, and as new superintendent I would love to explore that," Eriksen said. Pope John XXIII High School in Sparta is at capacity and will soon be adding another wing, and things are stable at Morris Catholic High School, Eriksen said.   Deferred maintenance remains a priority systemwide, and Eriksen said he hopes to get the schools out of "triage" mode and onto a more stable footing — and that could include more consolidation.  "I'm not concerned with the number of buildings we have, I'm concerned with maximizing the number of students we have," Eriksen said. "We can't get too caught up in buildings. At the end of the day, our product is people."

Eriksen has served as a consultant to Catholic schools dioceses around the country — including working with the Catholic system in New Orleans as it struggles to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina. He is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and has master's degrees from the University of Oregon and Harvard University. He speaks Arabic and Spanish.  The biggest threat to Catholic schools is not enrollment but rather "nostalgia," Eriksen said. "It simply isn't going to work like it did 30 years ago."

Diocese confirms school closing


Hundreds of families will have to find new places to have their children educated after learning that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Paterson will permanently shut the doors of one of its elementary schools at the end of the school year.  But even as parents mourned the imminent closure of Pope John Paul II Elementary School, Clifton public school officials said they were eager to acquire the property, which they said could go a long way to ease classroom overcrowding. Paterson Diocese Schools Superintendent John Ericksen, citing declining enrollments and economic hardship, announced plans to close the school in a letter to parents that arrived in mailboxes Wednesday.

"Without an enrollment of several hundred more students and a significant increase in tuition and fees, the hard evidence is that we can no longer keep Pope John Paul II School open," Ericksen wrote in the letter dated Tuesday. "The Diocesan Education Council approved the decision stating its sorrow that such a fine school could no longer continue."   Fewer than 600 students are enrolled in the Valley Road school, which opened in 1992 at the site of the former Paul VI High School.   Ericksen did not return phone calls for comment Wednesday.   The announcement came as a blow to Pope John Paul II parents.

"I am outraged beyond outrage," said Eugene Lynch, a Paterson resident whose two sons attend the school. "I don't want to do this to my kids. I don't want to bounce my 8-year-old and my 10-year-old around."   Lynch enrolled his children in Pope John Paul II a couple of years ago, after the diocese closed St. George School in Paterson. Because the curricula of the two schools were different, his sons had to play catch-up for half a year.  "The first sixth months were absolutely horrendous. My kids are smart, and they thought, 'Oh my God, we are really behind,'" he said. Clifton resident Virginia Velasco said she was devastated to hear that the school was closing.

"My sister, my nephew graduated there," she said. "It was my hope that my two children would graduate from there."  The letter to parents did not describe whether the diocese would accept Pope John Paul II students at its other schools, but invited parents to a pair of meetings to discuss the closure.  Much speculation had surrounded the future of the school after Clifton public Schools Superintendent Richard Tardalo said that the diocese had approached the district about possibly leasing or purchasing the property.  Clifton school board President Michael Urciuoli said Wednesday evening the district has been talking with the diocese for about a month about acquiring the school, a 100,000-square-foot building that sits on 10 acres of land near the merger of Routes 3 and 46.

"That property has been on the Board of Education's radar for many, and I underline many, years," said Urciuoli. "It is exciting news for Clifton."  The district had expressed interest in turning the site into a third middle school.   The diocese had not yet named a price for purchasing the property, Urciuoli said, but the assessed value of the school, according to county tax records, was more than $11 million in 2007. The school board has also had discussions with the Clifton City Council about buying the property together.  Nothing is set in stone yet, said Urciuoli, and he added that there might be competition to acquire the school.  "It's 10 acres of prime property," said Urciuoli. "I'll bet you dollars to doughnuts, once people know that property's available, they're going to be looking at it."

Catholic schools in danger of losing millions


A parish school in Kinnelon is among 14 area Catholic schools that collectively could lose millions of dollars because their tuition-collection company has filed for bankruptcy.  The company, Tuition Program Inc., of Livingston, filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition Jan. 12, saying it owes $3.69 million to the schools and another $867,000 to banking giant Wachovia.  The company reported on the petition that it has assets of $500,000 to $1 million.  Our Lady of the Magnificat School in Kinnelon is owed $298,000.

The church pastor, Monsignor John J. Carroll, said the bankruptcy will force him to find money in the overall budget to offset the loss. He added that the school of 172 students will prevail without any cuts to programs.  “I have to rob Peter to pay Paul,” Carroll said. “I don’t have $300,000 sitting around.”  Two other schools in the Paterson Diocese, Sacred Heart in Rockaway and Sacred Heart in Dover, are facing losses of $270,512 and $55,986 respectively.  “This is a highly unfortunate situation for these schools,” the diocese said in a statement. “We will do all we can to help the schools in recovering the tuition funds due to them.”

Two schools in South Plainfield and Bound Brook were also affected. The remaining schools, except for one in San Antonio, are in New York.  Tuition Program Inc., or TPI, was founded in 1985 by Catholic parents who wanted a better tuition system at their own school, its Web site said.  The company, for a fee, pays its client schools a set amount each month and handles all tuition collections — an arrangement that makes it easier for the schools to stick with their budgets and avoid shortfalls caused by delinquent tuition payments.  “TPI is a family business that was founded to help pastors and administrators … save souls and educate children,” the Web site said.

 The site continues to broadcast a video clip of Sister Marie DiLorenzo, principal of the Rockaway school, touting the company for helping improve her school’s cash flow.   “They provide us with a steady flow of tuition for our school,” DiLorenzo says in the video. “I would highly recommend this company to any other schools.”  The company’s CEO, Brendon Devlin, couldn’t be reached for comment today.  Carroll, the Kinnelon pastor, said there was little warning that TPI was in trouble. He found out by e-mail on the day that the Chapter 11 petition was filed. He said the company had made its payments through last month.  “We wish we had been advised of their problems, but as far as I know, none of the schools were,” Carroll said. “That’s life. You don’t expect it to hit you, but it certainly hits everybody.”

Catholic Schools facing closure


Within the next two weeks, the Diocese of Paterson may announce the closing of one of four area Catholic elementary schools in the face of stagnating enrollment and rising costs.   Paterson Diocese Schools superintendent John Eriksen painted a bleak picture of the finances for the Catholic elementary schools in Wayne and Pequannock tonight before a crowd of 400 parents and teachers. During a meeting at DePaul High School, Eriksen said two of the four schools in Wayne and Pequannock had projected loses of more than $200,000 each, although the financial picture at one of the schools was improving.

The four area schools are Our Lady of the Valley, Immaculate Heart of Mary, and Our Lady of Consolation, all in Wayne, and Holy Spirit in Pequannock.   Eriksen told the crowd that there has been no decision made as to which school may close, although an announcement could be imminent. It is unclear when the closure would happen. A crowd of frustrated parents told Eriksen that the uncertainty would do more to hurt school enrollment.  “I need information so I know what to tell my son and I know what to plan for the future,’’ said Suzanne Macci, a parent of a student at Our Lady of the Valley.

Several parents said they were in favor of a tuition increase as a way to keep the schools open. Eriksen said keeping all four schools open would require a minimum $500 increase in tuition.  “Everyone will pay that,’’ said Steven Croucher of Wayne, whose son attends DePaul High School and whose wife teaches in the catholic elementary schools.  Karl Bernier, a parent of four Catholic school students, suggested the Diocese focus on increasing enrollment and appeal to churches for more money to support the schools.  “We shouldn’t close any of the schools,’’ Bernier said. “Let’s find a way to get tuition up lets find a way to get more students to come to these schools.’’

1 posted on 03/02/2009 4:02:15 PM PST by Coleus
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To: Coleus

The Diacese of Washington is closing down the school in my Parish. We will be lucky to save the Church.

2 posted on 03/02/2009 4:05:19 PM PST by Venturer
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To: Coleus

Pray for these folks and those good people who support our Catholic and other parochial schools. These are tough times for private schools who largely rely on the generosity of parents, alumni, and charitable Catholics to run their schools and parishes. I’m praying hard.

It’s infuriating that Obama’s budget seeks to punish those who are involved in charitable giving.

3 posted on 03/02/2009 4:06:01 PM PST by St. Louis Conservative
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To: Coleus

LOL. My family is from Paterson. We moved to Dallas when I was a kid, so I avoided the madness, but I did get a tasted on my summer vatcations back east.

4 posted on 03/02/2009 4:07:54 PM PST by Retired Greyhound
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To: Coleus
Sad. Methinks the Diocese needs to close some parishes in Paterson and Passaic.

This article is highly misleading, as the diocese includes some of the wealthiest towns in the United States. Paterson and Passaic are at the core, but don't dominate the diocesan rolls by any stretch of the imagination.

5 posted on 03/02/2009 4:10:00 PM PST by Clemenza (Remember our Korean War Veterans)
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To: Coleus; rochester_veteran
Mahoney said some parishes, schools and Catholic Charities programs could be closed, though no decisions have been made. Pastors of the 16 Paterson parishes have begun meeting to discuss ways to consolidate their ministries. They have until June to come up with recommendations.

That statement reads like the one formulated by the RC Diocese of Albany. The northeast, once the land of immigrants, has lost their offspring to the southern tier of fhe US. It's a very painful process to consolidate and close. The bishop is wise to entrust these decisions to the parishioners.

6 posted on 03/02/2009 4:10:40 PM PST by NYer ("Run from places of sin as from a plague." - St. John Climacus)
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To: NYer
The northeast, once the land of immigrants, >>>

It still is; however, it's a different kind of Catholic immigrant, primarily from Mexico and the Dominican Republic who have decided that weekly attendance at mass and church involvement is not for them.

7 posted on 03/02/2009 4:14:25 PM PST by Coleus (Abortion, Euthanasia & FOCA - - don't Obama and the Democrats just kill ya!)
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Paterson Catholic has been a haven for at-risk students such as Essence Townsend, a senior on the girls basketball team.

The death opened a void in the teenager that can never be filled.

But Essence found a sanctuary, a way out when she could see none, a reason to get out of bed in the morning.

She found Paterson Catholic.

Paterson Catholic has changed lives in a city that can take them, mended those who have been scarred by tragedy and poverty, by violence and gangs, by drugs and death, some of its students say.


The people who make up Paterson Catholic High School have a special bond. Students often overwhelmed by the hardships of inner city life are guided by educators with an uncanny amount of empathy and perseverance.
Here are the stories of five of them:

Greg Moore's an honor roll student. An athlete. He’s come a long, long way from West Runyon Street in Newark.

But he remembers. The gunshots just kept coming, one after another. Pop-pop-pop-pop-pop…Eleven bullets found their target, pumping into Greg Moore’s brother.

Moore was just 7. But he knew he did not want to end up that way. Paterson Catholic became his way out. Read his story


Michele Neves doesn’t know how else to say it. She was meant to be at Paterson Catholic, and she was meant to stay.

Neves has been at the school for 37 of its 41 years, as teacher, as dean of discipline and now as assistant principal. She was placed there by Seton Hall for her student teaching. She has never left. Read her story


ShaQuanna Marshall crossed his path by chance, just walking down the street. And the stranger began to follow.

Sometimes your own block can be the wrong place at the wrong time. Even at 9 in the morning, when you’re on your way to basketball practice, trouble will find you.

Marshall had no choice but to fight for her life. Read her story


Benjie Wimberly the Paterson Catholic football coach, knows what his athletes deal with each day.

He grew up in Paterson. He was born in the Alabama Projects and grew up in the Fifth Ward, walking past the drug dealers.

He watched as one family member after another fell victim to drugs and alcohol, to the streets of Paterson. Read his story


Maurice McDonald Jr. was two-months old when his father was shot dead in a Philadelphia apartment.

About a month later, his mom dropped him off at his paternal grandparents’ house saying she was going to the store. She never returned.

It could have been bad. But Maurice had his grandparents. And he has Paterson Catholic. Read his story

A sanctuary fights for life

But it has become an endangered species, the last inner-city Catholic high school still standing in North Jersey. Facing a $750,000 budget gap, the school’s immediate future was in doubt until late last month when Arthur J. Serratelli, the bishop of the Diocese of Paterson, announced it would remain open at least through this year. The school still needs to raise $450,000, although about half that total has already been pledged.

Just last April, Paterson Catholic also faced closure, when the school had to raise $350,000 in just two weeks. “The thought of that place closing was really nauseating to me because people just don’t understand how important this place is,” said Benjie Wimberly, the Paterson Catholic football coach and director of recreation in Paterson. “I prayed on a daily basis for a miracle, like, ‘Somebody, please come save this place.’ “If they knew about the kids that we deal with and the lives that are being changed and saved, that something good has to come out of this whole thing. This place is special. You got to realize, this just has to be here.”

Long-term trends

But long-term trends are working against the school. Enrollment in parochial schools has dropped by more than half nationwide since it peaked in the 1960s, with scores of schools being closed or merged in recent years, including some in the Diocese of Paterson.  Paterson Catholic may be especially vulnerable. It does not have the powerful alumni base of Bergen County’s Don Bosco or Bergen Catholic. The diocese can no longer write blank checks to cover shortfalls. And PC’s problems cannot simply be fixed with larger enrollments that would aid other North Jersey parochials. “It would be a travesty to see Paterson Catholic close,” said Paterson Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres. “The commitment of Paterson Catholic to the Paterson community in general has been enormous.”

Sports has long been a focal point for the school, with its outstanding football and basketball programs. In fact, PC is in the midst of one its greatest basketball seasons ever: The girls varsity team won the Non-Public B State championship Saturday night and the boys fell one step short Wednesday, after upsetting powerhouse St. Anthony’s earlier last week. PC serves kids like Townsend, who not only found a nurturing place after the tragic death of her mother, Letitia, and then the great-aunt who raised her, but the 6-foot-6 senior also found a second mom in assistant principal Michele Neves and a basketball scholarship to Maryland.

Kids like Greg Moore, offering the running back an escape from the rough halls of Weequahic and the rough streets of his Newark neighborhood after his brother was shot 11 times. Kids like Maurice McDonald, whose dad was shot when Maurice was a toddler, but who has found peace in his faith and in Paterson Catholic — and a Division 1 football scholarship to Maine. Kids like Shakara Thomas, a senior softball player who never knew her father, who lost her mother in a fire just before her 10th birthday, but who found “a home that I’ve never had, even as a little girl.”

And for so many more.

“It’s a blessing in the community,” said Shirley Mills, a Nanuet, N.Y., grandmother and guardian of junior football player Gregory Thomas who said her grandson’s father is serving time in federal prison. “I hope it stays alive. There’s so many other kids out there who need it.”

Year-to-year existence

Richard Garibell waits just inside Paterson Catholic’s front doors about 7:30 each morning, greeting the 400 bleary-eyed students as they stumble in.  There he stands guard, keeping the peace on the streets outside the school doors armed with only a smile on his friendly face. The principal often can tell just by looking at his students — their expressions, their posture — if they need intervention. He knows all their names. And he knows their stories. “They have to pass the mean streets and the tough areas,” said Garibell, who has been principal at PC for three years. “Some of the streets here in this town are tough. I know this city. I know where it’s tough.” Garibell has been in education for 38 years, many of them in Paterson.

But he has never faced a crisis as bleak as Paterson Catholic’s recent financial situation.  Tuition is $5,980. The average student contributes only $2,700 toward it, as 70 percent of the student body receives financial aid. But the cost to educate each pupil is $10,600.  “The kids who walk through that door, they basically have a $5,000 scholarship,” Garibell said. “We have to find that money.” But to do that, they had to start over in a dire economic climate. And they still must find a way to lift Paterson Catholic from its precarious year-to-year existence and instill confidence in students, staff, parents and the benefactors needed to invest in the school.

“We’re going to have to change, and we’re going to have to change rapidly,” said John Eriksen, who was hired in September as the superintendent of the diocese’s 52 schools.  After last year’s near-closing, the diocese set benchmarks for enrollment, finances and academics, which PC needed to meet to remain open. It met them. The diocese also formed a board of trustees, whose sole responsibility is to ensure the survival of the school. And it hired Semple Bixel, a fund-raising consulting firm. “There’s no doubt that if Paterson Catholic didn’t exist, it would have a profound impact on that city,” Eriksen said. “Nobody in this diocese disputes that.”

"This is their only chance"

There is simply nowhere else to go.  Paterson Catholic is the last parochial high school left in the city. Benedictine Academy is gone. So are St. Bonaventure’s, St. Mary’s, St. John’s, St. Joseph’s and, most recently, Don Bosco Tech.  For many parents of PC students, other North Jersey parochial schools are not an option. More than 80 percent of the student body meets the federal poverty requirements for a free or reduced school lunch. The state average is 27 percent. And Eastside and Kennedy — Paterson’s two public high schools, not including its specialty academies — were labeled “dropout factories” in 2007 in a Johns Hopkins University analysis of U.S. Department of Education data.

New Jersey Monthly magazine ranks Kennedy 314th out of the 316 public schools in the state. Eastside ranks 311th. Paterson Catholic, however, boasts a graduation rate of about 99 percent, with about 85 percent of its students pursuing higher education. “This is their only chance,” said Wimberly, whose program has sent 60-plus student-athletes to play college football. “I can tell you so many stories about kids who probably would have never made it if it wasn’t for Paterson Catholic. They were given an opportunity not only just to go to college, but to be productive citizens … because of the atmosphere of the small learning environment, the sense of spirituality there, the family values that have been installed.”

More than a sports factory

Many of the students are drawn by its sports programs: the football team that has won six State championships since 1999, the boys basketball team that has won two straight Passaic County titles and churns out Division 1 players, the girls team that has become a rising power, also winning the basketball county championship last month. But PC is more than a sports factory. It has become a second home for many kids — several of whom say they did not have one before they found the school.

“You have to be the parent, we are their parents for the most part, because most of them don’t have them,” said Joe Purcella, a physical-education and health teacher. “Most of our kids don’t have anything consistent in their lives. You are the only consistent thing in their lives. “People have left them their whole lives. People have disappointed them their whole lives. I don’t want to be that person to disappoint the kids.”

Students have a surrogate mother in Neves, who puts out food for students and has gone as far as finding drug rehabilitation programs for those who need it. And they have father figures in Wimberly and Garibell. All three grew up in Paterson. They understand what it is like for their students, for a kid like ShaQuanna Marshall.  The junior basketball player lives with her AAU coach after a recent fire left her family homeless. “If you spent a week or even a day, you would get so close with the students, so close with the faculty,” she said. “You wouldn’t want this to close. This is something special.”

8 posted on 04/12/2009 8:06:21 PM PDT by Coleus (Abortion, Euthanasia & FOCA - - don't Obama and the Democrats just kill ya!)
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