By Mary Ellen Godin and Michael Gagne
MERIDEN — Teachers, parents and students were saddened to learn Wednesday that Our Lady of Mount Carmel School will be closing at the end of the academic year due to declining enrollment.
It is the last Catholic school in Meriden — a city once home to seven.
“We had better days,” said the Rev. Thomas Sievel.
“What was apparent to us and the archdiocese was we couldn’t keep the school financially going. We’ve gone from seven Catholic schools in the city down to none.”
The school lost 59 students last year and was set to lose an additional 31 by the end of the year. Total enrollment at the school was under 200 students. It is scheduled to close on June 30.
Sievel spoke with the staff Wednesday afternoon and then he and principal Michael Frechette e-mailed a letter to parents announcing the news.
“It is with deep sadness that we regret to inform you that OLMC will be closing at the end of the 2019-2020 School Year,” the letter said. “The School Board is in agreement with this decision as are the Parish Trustees and Parish Finance Council.
“This is not an easy decision since OLMC has been offering area students an outstanding education for over 75 years and is the last of seven Catholic schools in Meriden,” the letter continued. “Low enrollment projections make it financially impossible to support the continuation of this distinguished legacy.”
After notifying staff and parents, Sievel contacted Mayor Kevin Scarpati.
“I was saddened to learn the news,” Scarpati said. “We went from three Catholic schools (in recent years) in our community to none on July 1. I would have loved for a different outcome, but the (enrollment) numbers aren’t there.”
Scarpati taught physical education at St. Stanislaus School in 2012 when it closed. He also taught at St. Joseph School until it closed and at Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
“It’s sad on all levels,” he said. “The students who have grown up in the same classes and the teachers who have given so many years to the school. To have this happen now is so unfortunate.”
Sievel said the Archdiocese of Hartford made the final decision to shutter the school. And after losing so many students in two weeks, he said the teachers knew what was coming.
There will be a parent meeting today at 5 p.m. in Lapenta Hall.
“We are exploring numerous avenues to support our students, parents, faculty, and staff,” the letter said. “OLMC has been blessed by dedicated families like yours, and we will continue to keep you in our prayers through this period of transition.”
Eddie Siebert learned his son’s school would be closing while waiting for him at the bus stop Wednesday afternoon. His son’s previous school, St. Joseph, closed in 2017.
Siebert said his son will likely attend Meriden Public Schools next year. “It’s unfortunate for everybody at Mount Carmel,” he said. “It’s unfortunate for all the families. It’s heartbreaking.”
Rebecca Gambardella described her son’s five years at the school as a “wonderful experience.”
Her husband’s grandmother, now in her 90s, also attended Mount Carmel.
“This is such a great school,” she said. “The kids learned to be responsible, to be held accountable, to be kind and to have empathy. Everyone is just so wonderful and supportive.”
She and her husband will consider other Catholic schools in nearby communities, but she held out hope that Mount Carmel can be saved and is planning to attend today’s meeting.
“I think a lot of parents are going to come there and ask, ‘What can we do to keep the school open?’” she said.
Meriden Public Schools Superintendent Mark Benigni said the school district will be prepared to welcome Mount Carmel families. “We will do all we can,” Benigni said.
The school district is also inviting Mount Carmel teachers and staff members to apply for positions within the school district.
“This is really something that’s been occurring throughout the nation. Balancing enrollment and budgetary needs is always a challenge for parochial schools,” he said.