LEBANON, Pa. — Lebanon Catholic is one of two schools in the Diocese of Harrisburg that will close at the end of the school year, the diocese announced Tuesday, citing "continued financial stress and decreasing enrollment."
The other school closing is Holy Family Consolidated Catholic School in Berwick, according to the diocese.
"Both schools have been facing enrollment and financial challenges for years and their continued operation is no longer sustainable by the area parishes," the Diocese of Harrisburg said in a press release announcing the closures. "As a form of ministry, the parishes in the Berwick and Lebanon areas are involved in the operation of Holy Family and Lebanon Catholic, respectively. The pastors from these parishes officially requested the closure of the schools, citing the continued financial stresses upon the parishes, especially in light of the current health crisis.'
Bishop Ronald Gainer said he has accepted the pastors’ recommendations and has granted permission for the closures.
“Making the choice to close a Catholic school is one of the most difficult decisions for a bishop," Gainer said. "Although many members of the Berwick and Lebanon communities worked heroically to reverse the financial situations of the schools, the downward trend has continued for years and has reached a point that is no longer sustainable by the parishes without impacting many other ministry programs.
"It is with a very heavy heart that I grant permission for these closures. While this is a very difficult time, I wish to thank the principals, faculties, staff, parents and students for their dedication.”
Gainer delivered the message to parents through a video due to social distancing restrictions, which made face-to-face meetings impossible.
Holy Family and Lebanon Catholic have operated in deficit situations for several years, the diocese said. As joint ministries of the Berwick and Lebanon area parishes, respectively, debts from the school’s operations become the responsibility of the parishes.
One year ago, leadership from the Berwick and Lebanon area parishes, as well as the school principals, met with Bishop Gainer and the Diocesan Education office to take a hard look at current and projected financial and enrollment figures, according to the diocese.
Even after the valiant efforts of the schools and parishes during the past year and several years previously, all involved parishes felt the current and anticipated future debt would significantly jeopardize the other ministries of the parishes.
As preparations are made to close the schools, the Diocese of Harrisburg said it will support staff members and will work with families who wish to continue their Catholic education at neighboring Catholic schools.
“We know and fully understand that this news is going to hit our families hard,” said Daniel Breen, Secretary for Education and Superintendent of Schools for the Diocese. “We work to promote Catholic education in the Diocese and the closures we are announcing today are truly a last resort. We will be working closely with the leadership of both Holy Family and Lebanon Catholic and also with the families of these schools, to make this transition as smooth as possible.”
Lebanon Catholic, a K through 12 school, currently has just over 300 students and more than 40 staff members.
Holy Family, a K through fifth grade school, currently has 62 students and 16 staff.
"We are grateful to parents for the many years of support they have given to Holy Family and Lebanon Catholic schools and for entrusting their children to the schools for their formation," the diocese said. "We also would like to acknowledge the alumni of Holy Family and Lebanon Catholic for their tireless support of their alma maters."