St. Mary School in Wayne to close due to low enrollment, financial challenges

The Michigan Catholic

Wayne — St. Mary School in Wayne will close at the end of the 2017-18 school year after struggling for years with low enrollment and unstable finances, according to a Feb. 16 letter from Bishop Walter Hurley.

The letter from Bishop Hurley, the retired bishop of Grand Rapids who has been serving as administrator of St. Mary Parish, was addressed to parents of the school’s 122 students.

“I wish to share with you some information regarding St. Mary School, which has served this parish and the community with distinction since 1925 with dedicated administration, faculty and families,” Bishop Hurley wrote. “I am saddened to conclude that it cannot continue past this school year under the present circumstances.”

Enrollment at St. Mary School has dropped from 243 students in 2010-11, and from 157 students last school year. Continuing to operate would require a subsidy of $250,000 per year, increasing the parish’s operating deficit on top of almost $5 million in debt currently held by St. Mary Parish, Bishop Hurley said.

While tuition for a single student at the school is $4,470 (or $5,200 for a non-parish family), the average operating cost per student is around $5,900 per year — a significant shortfall.

“Tuition rates do not have room to grow, as they are already the highest in the area,” Bishop Hurley said. “It has become clear with the data that it is not responsible to accept registrations for the 2018-19 school year.”

Bishop Hurley said the parish consulted extensively with the archdiocesan Catholic schools office before making the request to Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron to close St. Mary School, which is located at 34530 West Michigan Ave. St. Mary Parish will continue to operate, Bishop Hurley said.

“Please be assured that this difficult decision was made only after careful prayer and with the needs of our children, parents, faculty and staff at the forefront,” Bishop Hurley wrote.

Bishop Hurley noted the archdiocese has been “exceedingly generous” to St. Mary Parish, which has not been charged interest on its loan in 10 years, and in recent years has received grants totaling $75,000, $49,000 and $50,000 to cover parish and school programs and operating expenses.

St. Mary School principal Kathy Sparks said she was “deeply saddened” by the decision to close the 94-year-old school, but acknowledged enrollment trends were not favorable to the school’s future.

“I know many of us were filled with hope during recent years, as we worked to create a positive Catholic culture and a challenging academic program,” Sparks wrote in a separate letter to parents. “I am grateful for the overwhelming support and dedication among teachers, parents, students and parishioners who have worked hard to promote the school.”

The parish and school are working to help students transition to other Catholic schools in the area, Sparks said, as well as to identify employment opportunities for teachers.

“We are confident that through prayer, the loving support of our teachers, and the support of St. Mary Parish, our students will find a home at another Catholic school,” Sparks wrote.