By Emily Drooby and Andrew Pugliese
BAY RIDGE — Before Mike Long voted, he closed his eyes for a moment.
He thought, “What would Bay Ridge look like without a Catholic school?”
He couldn’t imagine that, and so he made the difficult decision to vote, ‘yes.’ Yes to closing Holy Angels Catholic Academy, where six of his nine children attended, and yes to joining the new Bay Ridge Catholic Academy, which will open next September at St. Anselm’s Catholic Academy half-a-mile away, nine blocks up Fourth Avenue.
The decision to merge Holy Angels and St. Anselm’s was announced by the Diocese of Brooklyn on Oct. 31.
“Today’s parents are going through a very emotional roller-coaster ride,” Long said. “They feel that they’ve been uprooted. But we know that we’re doing the right thing for them and their children. We’re doing the right thing for the future kids of Bay Ridge, so that they have a good, strong Catholic institution to go to.”
Long and the rest of Holy Angels’ board were faced with a declining enrollment at the school, while St. Anselm’s is facing financial challenges, according to Auxiliary Bishop James Massa, diocesan vicar of education.
Holy Angels’ enrollment has fallen from 214 to 121 since the 2015-2016 academic year, and renovations to Holy Angels’ building were estimated to cost $3.2 million to accommodate a merged school, compared with $600,000 for St. Anselm’s, according to Long.
School officials project that Bay Ridge Catholic Academy will open with 400 students, which would make it one of the biggest elementary schools in the diocese. More students will mean a larger budget.
At St. Anselm’s school building, math and science labs will be updated, according to school officials, and the new school will emphasize subjects such as engineering to develop critical thinking and will have more music and arts classes.
It will also have events to help students and parents from Holy Angels and St. Anselm’s to get to know each other and feel like one community, John Quaglione, chairman of the St. Anselm’s board of directors, said.
“The two parishes will work together,” Msgr. John Maloney, the pastor of St Anselm, said. “The priests from the two parishes will respond to the pastoral care. We have Mass at least once a month with the children. We’ll be rotating. Priests from each parish will come over to say Mass and hear confessions.”
The merger won’t be easy. Parent meetings on Nov. 5 at both Holy Angels and St. Anselm’s were extremely hard as parents and school officials discussed the changes coming to the two schools, each of which has almost 100 years of history.
Msgr. Kevin Noone, pastor of Our Lady of Angels, is a 1958 graduate of what was then Our Lady of Angels School, now Holy Angels.
“It was just home,” he said. “It was a real family atmosphere.”
Anwar Najjar and his wife have found a home for their three boys at Holy Angels over the last eight years. The Lebanese-American couple is Muslim, but started sending their eldest to the Catholic school down the block for first grade in 2011. Now, their middle son is in the seventh grade and their youngest is in the fourth.
Despite practicing a different faith at home, they want their children to learn about the religion and cultures of others and want to keep their children in a diocesan school. They are concerned, however, about a transition for their seventh-grader during his last year of grammar school.
“We are also trying to see what is the best fit for my son because I’m more worried about him because next year is his last year and I need him to graduate with a good head and leaving a good school,” Najjar said.
Diocesan and school officials are encouraging parents, like the Najjars, to give their input. Ideas are forming, but nothing is set in stone. The diocese has formed several committees, including enrollment management, curriculum and facilities.
“All of the decisions are not made, and there is definitely an opportunity for their input. We want them to sign up and come to the meetings,” Quaglione said. “We want them to help build the school for their children.”
For the full statement from the Diocese of Brooklyn, go here.