With the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington paying out $77.4 million to sexual abuse victims, Delaware Catholic schools are wondering where that leaves them.


With the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington paying out $77.4 million to sexual abuse victims, Delaware Catholic schools are wondering where that leaves them.

The diocese reached its settlement through mediation of its Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings intended to fairly compensate all the victims of sexual abuse at the hands of priests.

Already the historic settlement accelerated the closure of another parochial school, St. Paul’s in Wilmington. Those students will be heading to Our Lady of Fatima in New Castle next school year.

The inner city school with dwindling enrollment was being directly subsidized, said Diocese of Wilmington Superintendent of Schools Cathy Weaver.

The school’s enrollment had fallen from 243 in 2001-2002 to just 128 for 2010-2011. It becomes very expensive to run a school once its enrollment dips below 200 because teachers have fewer students to instruct, officials said.

The school also was the victim of the changing demographics diocesan officials have monitored for some time, where more families are moving away from Wilmington and its immediate suburbs out to the Bear, Glasgow and Middletown areas. The school built to serve the latter areas, Christ The Teacher in Bear, has an enrollment of more than 600 and a waiting list, Weaver added.

In the wake of the latest closing, some upstate parishes were reluctant to speak about the future. Near Newark, St. John/Holy Angels School Principal Barbara Snively declined to comment, citing “the sensitivity of the situation.”

However, Weaver defended Holy Angels saying it’s actually on the right track in terms of enrollment. Holy Angels, which had sustained a small enrollment dip, saw enrollment increase this year after it added programs to better compete with charter and magnet schools as well as demographic forces.

Although enrollment for the Wilmington Diocese schools have decreased overall to between 3 and 4% at the elementary level, Weaver said the decline would have been worse had schools not added preschool programs.

“I think we’re in a pretty good position right now given the changes that we’ve made this year,” she said. “But every school needs to pay attention to its community and to its mission, enrollment and finances.”

The diocese also announced in November that Corpus Christi, St. Catherine of Sienna and St. Matthew’s would become All Saints Catholic School next school year at the Corpus Christi campus in Elsmere. A few years back, Holy Rosary and St. Helena’s merged into Pope John Paul II along the Philadelphia Pike corridor.

However, St. John the Beloved School in Pike Creek is one group of popular schools — along with St. Mary Magdalen, Immaculate Heart of Mary and St. Ann — that have no current worries about enrollment.

The school is at capacity with 629 students and will remain so next year, said Monsignor Charles Brown, pastor of the parish.

“We’re doing very well. We have an excellent program,” he said. “The higher the numbers the better and the more programs you can offer.”

And given the latest school closing, parishioners seem to be taking things in stride, Brown said.

“The chatter in the parking lot is very positive,” he said. “And when the chatter in the parking lot is positive, the vibe in the community is very positive.”

Downstate at Saint Thomas More Preparatory School in Magnolia the mood is positive as well.

Principal David L. McKenzie said the school’s enrollment continues to increase and the school is self-sustaining through tuition and donations.

Although parents might ask questions about the diocese’s sexual abuse cases, he said it’s usually during the initial interview process and that’s the end of it.

Monsignor Dan McGlynn of Church of the Holy Cross in Dover said their elementary school also supports itself.

“The local parish subsidizes the school,” he said, “but the bulk of the monies that run the school come from tuition.”

However, one way self-sustaining schools might still be affected by the settlement is addressing capital needs.

The Catholic Diocese Foundation, which had $54 million in assets, was used to fund building projects, diocese officials said. The CDF is one of the places used to fund the trust for survivors of clergy sexual abuse and other creditors.

McKenzie said luckily Saint Thomas More has a new building but future projects will be funded by a capital campaign like any other school.

The Holy Cross parish also doesn’t have any immediate building requests but McGlynn said that could change in the long term for needs like a new roof, boiler or even a new church.

The CDF’s demise notwithstanding, the diocese preserved the school tuition assistance it provides to families on a case-by-case basis, Weaver said, estimating tuition funds to be approximately $700,000 per year.

The tuition assistance was protected because the people who donated that money specifically stated these funds were for tuition assistance, she added.

Email Jayne Gest and Antonio Prado at jayne.gest@doverpost.com and antonio.prado@communitypub.com