It is possible there is nothing more wrenching in the community of a Catholic parish than closing its grade school. That is the spot that St. Bernardine’s finds itself this late winter as the parish and the archdiocese announced what was inevitable last week, that after 98 years St. Bernardine’s School will close after this year’s graduation.
The Catholic grade school is traditionally a hub of parish life, an entry point for new families, a gathering point for kids and parents, teachers and priests, a touchstone for generations of families who identify simply as St. B’s.
Even as in recent decades the enrollment of the school has slowly declined and the student body has become less homegrown, St. Bernardine’s School has remained an integral and defining institution in our community. The loss of the only Catholic school will have impact not just on the parish but on Forest Park overall.
The closing of the school this spring will challenge St. Bernardine’s Parish as a community to find its strengths and focus on its purposes. Sadly this is not the first or last Catholic parish to face this reassessment. Some parishes have thrived, some have suffered after the loss of a school. At St. B’s, the parish’s religious and lay leaders will need to unite in open conversation and planning to chart their changed course.
On Monday, St. B’s principal, Veronica Skelton Cash, told the Review that teachers were urging their students to close strong in the final months they have together. “We’re going to go out with grace and dignity, celebrating 98 years of excellence here,” she said. That is a message worthy of St. Bernardine’s School, true to its generations of graduates, in touch with the connected community of St. B’s.