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St. Agnes School to Close, Archdiocese Confirms

Low enrollment has meant the parish has had to significantly subsidize the school in recent years, according to a spokesperson for the archdiocese.

St. Agnes School, the pre-K through 8th grade Catholic school of St. Agnes Parish in Clark, will close its doors for good after this school year. 

The school announced the closure to parents and to the church community over the weekend. St. Agnes was also scheduled to close in 2010, but remained open after an effort from parents to save the school and increase enrollment.

Though the archdiocese has not officially announced the closing, spokesman Jim Goodness confirmed it to Patch on Tuesday. 

"We’ve been looking at the school for a number of years and it was going to close at the end of the 2009-2010 year," Goodness told Patch. "It had then reached a low of 139 students from a high of close to 200, probably around 2003. That number has continued to lower itself. I think there are fewer than 100 students right now in grades K-8."

Goodness says the low enrollment has meant the parish has had to significantly subsidize the school. 

"Over the course of the past five years the school has reached close to two million dollars in direct subsidy," Goodness says. "It has reached a point where it became obvious to everyone that the parish could no longer continue to provide that level of support."

Goodness says while there may be 500 students in the local community and many of them attend religious education at St. Agnes, the majority of families have not elected to send their students to St. Agnes for school.  

To close a school, the parish asks the archdiocese for permission to close.

"We look at factors involved and reasons being cited," says Goodness. "It just became too clear that this was not a school that could continue without a higher subsidy, as well as probably a very large tuition increase. And we know every time we increase tutition, we tend to lose a significant amount of students."

Goodness says the archdiocese has been calling for school choice legislation to pass that would give parents the ability to chose a parochial school like St. Agnes. 

"I think a partnership with the state could be made possible but people in the legislature and elsewhere don’t want any school choice in place," says Goodness.  

Goodness says students currently enrolled at St. Agnes will have opportunities to register at another Catholic school for next year, and that St. Agnes hopes to organize a night for those schools to come talk about their programs with parents. 

"We at the school will be maintaining our rigorous curriculum for the remainder of the year," Principal Heather Schnaars wrote in an email to Patch.  "We plan on continuing to give the best education to all our students."

Pastor Dennis Cohan did not return our calls for comment. 
bob barrett January 22, 2014 at 06:32 PM
Ms. Patti: A times when the school children were involved in church activities it was always a pleasure to see them. It is sad that our school must close. I attended St. Leo's in Irvington and have nothing but pleasant memories of all the nuns that taught me. But unfortunately, times have changed and in many ways not for the good. It all comes down to dollars. The church only has income from its parishioners. I remember when the auditorium was full for church on Sundays. Young people are not going to church because their parents don't. The children make communion and confirmation and possibly we see them at Christmas and Easter. The subsidy per student was over $4000. Can the parents pay this extra amount? Father Cohan plea for an increase of 50% was obviously not accepted by most church goers. We did increase the 50% but unfortunately others did not. Please don't blame the archdiocese or our parish. Only the federal gov't can print money.
Joanne Morvillo January 22, 2014 at 07:00 PM
You know, you can get addicted to these forums. I'm thinking, closing a Catholic school is like taking out the heart of the parish. I really enjoyed attending many of the fundraisers -- although they were more like social events -- run by the school parents each year. For example, the Pocketbook Bingo, regular Bingos, Reverse 50/50 Raffle, Comedy Night, Tricky Tray, Spaghetti Dinner, Dinner Nights at local restaurants, Summer Festival, St. Patrick's Day Party, and probably more that I can't remember. Many parishioners attended these events, not only the school parents. Do you think the parishioners or religious ed parents will take over?
omdmd January 22, 2014 at 07:18 PM
May be if the Archdiocese wouldn't spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on legal defense and settlements for sexual abuse cases, there would be enough funds to help keep Catholic schools open. It seems that their priority is definitely not a Catholic School education but on defending these perverts!!!!
MK Brendan January 22, 2014 at 08:06 PM
@omdmd Oh please. You can't keep a school open with 100 students. How many students should a school have to have to be kept open? 100? 50? Where is the limit? It's just not possible to be financially viable with 100. Hopefully all of these students and their families will find other Catholic schools to attend and will help to strengthen that school.
omdmd January 22, 2014 at 08:43 PM
@MK I am not saying it is possible to keep a school open with low enrollment, but the archdiocese could sure make more of an effort in advertising the quality and importance of a catholic education. They could be more active in recruiting families, by bringing more families in, tuition would not be so high. And the fact is thousands and thousands of dollars have been wasted on legal matters - money that could have been better spent. St. Agnes school is just another victim of an archdiocese that only cares about protecting their own. And I know many cases first hand where the archdiocese has protected priests that have acted and continue to act in immoral lifestyles. Again the priorities in the Newark Archdiocese are a bit twisted.
John January 23, 2014 at 07:01 AM
In this forum, there are several points that have been mentioned, that have all led to this closing. Individually they may not be legitamate, but collectively it is surprising that the school has remained open this long. Enrollment has certainly been affected by the economy. Membership in the parish has declined due to the constant solicitation for funding of the school along with the abuse scandals. Therefore, donations are not at a level to fund the operations of the church, let alone the school. The lack of support from the head of the parish, i.e. Fr Cohan and the Arch Diocese, and their poor fiscal decisions add to the mix. You can only draw from well, so many times before it runs dry. Don't ask "Why" the school is closing, ...ask "Why Not"?
MK Brendan January 23, 2014 at 07:48 AM
I do agree that sometimes parishes and parish schools can get themselves in downward spirals for many reasons. But the blame when a particular school closes cannot just be on the AD or the priests, and certainly not on the families who did sacrifice to send their children to the school. Look around at your public-school-Rel-Ed families, they are the ones who closed your school by rejecting it. Again, I wish the best to the families and the students affected.
John January 23, 2014 at 11:52 AM
Please don't misunderstand me! I do agree that ANY parent that chooses to pay tuition and send their child(ren) to a parochial school ,while still paying taxes to support public schools, most definitely is making a sacrifice. That is a choice they make for whatever reasons they have. I did not attend a parochial school nor did our children, so I am not the best person to judge the benefits of parochial vs public education. That was our decision for our select reasons. What my point is, in this downturned economy, I'm certain there are some of these families that have been forced to make choices to either reduce their subsidy to the school or to even leave the school all together. As parents, our first responsibility is to our families' well being and maintaining a roof over our heads. Not to fiscally support a failing operation just for the sake of a what they feel is a better education and/or social atmosphere. If it comes down to choosing between paying the mortgage and utility bills or St Agnes tuition,....you make the call! This is not rocket science! The "blame", as some will call it, does not solely rest on Fr. Cohan nor the AD. These are just part of a whole number of reasons that resulted in this decision. To quote Michael Corleone in the Godfather,....."It's not personal, it's just business". Kudos to all the families for their choices and sacrifices for their children. I hope it all works out for all those concerned.
annette rose January 23, 2014 at 12:02 PM
I was very involved with saint agnes and fundraisers i had the pleasure of working closely with father armond who supplied me with great strength when my mom died and with father marcone. I did however stop going to saint agnes because i felt like the priest just did not care about concerns it was like he was doing you a favor by listening and the only thing cared about was how much money was made in the household and how much the church should get. I also realized that what we teach our children the god forgives and that is what i tought my ccd class that the catholic faith is also about forgivness well this turned out to untrue and i dont know where anyone in st agnes is alowed to sit in judgement. I do however wish ms komar was still there and father marcone was this might not be happening. As a little girl i remember not even being able to sit now there is pleanty of room what does that tell you
bob barrett January 23, 2014 at 01:59 PM
No one who wants the st. Agnes school to stay open has responded to my question: hoe to pay for it?
bob barrett January 23, 2014 at 02:11 PM
Unfortunately when father Choma was our pastor he convinced The parish council to spend our resources on the church and school.both have survived almost 50 years even with a declining attendance and obviously the stained glass windows, expanding the church to a cross , the school renovations did not , as I see, increase our attendance or school enrollment. Our new Pope speaks about getting away from materialism Windows, larger church are surely that as far as I am concerned. But let us acknowledge that Father Cohan has made a strong and sincere effort by requesting parishioners to increase their weekly contributions to offset the deficit due to the school subsidies. All Parishioners did not respond. Weekly increase only could cover a small percentage of the deficit. So the question is really what alternative did Father Cohan have?
Paulus Chuikov January 24, 2014 at 09:18 AM
Economic down turn is only part of the answer. We had a similar situation at St. Cecelia's where 150 students were enrolled with about 500 in the CCD program. Many people today choose to build their McMansion's and drive a Mercedes or Lexus instead of sacrificing for education as previous generations. These same parents have no problem spending thousands a year on sports clinics for the kids thinking they have the next All-Star. Its all about priorities and people are unfortunately moving away from faith and following materialism. Once the school closes, the strength of the Church only rests on the backs of the senior citizens. 20 years from now the Churches will enter a shutdown phase just as the past 20 years have seen massive school closings.
John January 24, 2014 at 10:21 AM
To quote my dear departed Father,...."Truer words were never spake"!
KJS January 26, 2014 at 09:00 AM
When you pay so much in prop taxes to the school district it is hard to quantify sending your child to catholic school for another 5k pop. Doesn't make good financial sense. Rumor has it Clark pre-school is interested in the school. Think they have out grow the mini building and has a waiting list.
Debbie Sedita-Kosiarski January 26, 2014 at 01:11 PM
I'm thinking of all that wasted money on renovating the school.
Clark Guy 2 January 26, 2014 at 02:26 PM
What a shame!
Clark Guy 1 January 26, 2014 at 07:59 PM
maybe families have left because of all of the "fake" priests hiding in the church just for an opportunity to perv children. Maybe the Church should be exposing them instead of attempting cover up.....maybe that is why enrollment is so low and not because people choose material things over paying for catholic education. People have their head in the sand on this issue, that is why the church is losing traction......expose a perv and throw them to lions, see how fast the community comes home....its not about money, it is about fear and trust....
KJS January 26, 2014 at 10:15 PM
it's ALWAYS about the money.....
StAgnesSchoolRocks January 27, 2014 at 05:01 PM
Such a tragedy to pull Catholic education and NOT PROMOTE it, good job Dr. Dames! The Pope needs to be informed of these fakes working for him, who claim to represent Catholic education but spend money elsewhere...
StAgnesSchoolRocks January 27, 2014 at 05:03 PM
For those who know St. Agnes School, the TEACHERS ARE AMAZING!!!! Prek to 8th, gym, art, music, Spanish, computers, above and beyond! You won't find this quality education anywhere else and THAT is why parents pay for Catholic education, because you get THE VERY BEST and that's what you should want for your kids :)
joe January 27, 2014 at 11:25 PM
When you only have 92 kids in a school built for 225 it can't keep going on forever. You can blame the Pastor but it's not all his fault. over the past 10 years there has been a steady decline. Most Catholic schools are in the same predicament. The school parents School and Parish staff did work very hard since 2010 to increase the numbers. The Parish committed a very large amount of money to offset the bleeding but with all the work that was put in it just didn't work out. Our Priests are very holy men so please don't go in the gutter and start to slam them I'm certain its not any easier for them. Ill be praying for you and your family's to adjust, its seem easier for kid then parents some times. "St. Agnes Pray for us!"
Viv January 28, 2014 at 03:01 PM
@Joe… I really resent your comment on the school parents and staff not working hard enough to help keep the school open. Not unless you yourself are a SAS parent or staff, then you have no justification on making any comments on what the SAS parents and staff should have done. For the past few years we (the parents & staff) have worked VERY hard with fundraising, advertisement, any means to keep the school open. Many of us have been there for many years and have grown to love this school, the teachers, staff, all the families… this is our second home. Many nights we were there having meetings, brainstorming, putting together our next fundraiser… many nights till midnight. Also there were fundraisers that were shut down for unknown reasons by Fr. Cohan. We worked hard.. VERY HARD! I myself volunteered most of my free time to help the school, whether I was chairing an event, helping another parent who was chairing an event, working in the kitchen, clean up… soliciting letters, advertising… again, whatever it took. 100% of all the fundraisers at the school were handled the parents from beginning to end. There were fundraisers that took months to prepare. We asked for donations from our local businesses in the area and I thank God for them that time after time they supported the school in any way they could. So please do not judge when you don’t know what the parents, including myself, have done for that school. When the school was going to close 3 years ago, many families rallied up and fought for St. Agnes, we all knew that the school was worth fighting for. However many also left because of Fr. Cohan. He’s lack of involvement with the school was apparent, still is and the school and parish need that connection, a connection that was never established at St. Agnes which made a difference on the future of the school. How can the school ‘grow’ if the school and parish do NOT work as one? The church seldom supported the school when it came to announcements of fundraisers, passing on correspondence inviting our parishioners to our events, sales, etc. Fr. Cohan himself seldom showed up at any of our events, this including our children events, plays, concerts, our Holiday brunches and so many others. It was very dishearten to witness this… and a fun factor about our pastor… Fr. Cohan came to us from another school that closed, that HE closed. Not long after he arrived did we get notice stating that St. Agnes School was closing (the first time). it was devastating then and its devastating now… I do blame the pastor… just because they wear “holy clothes” doesn’t mean their intent is always good. This is a ‘business’ decision all to keep the parish going and to make $, and I don’t have a problem with this but when the school is scarified then that leaves me a bit unease, and again it’s ANOTHER Catholic School closing. Someone else commented that $ has everything to do with it… I agree… no one knows yet what will become of St. Agnes school but I’m sure the plan is to bring in $ to the parish in lieu of all the families the parish has lost because of the school closing. In the meantime, all these families will move on to other schools/parishes (many leaving the Archdiocese of Newark) the teachers, the office staff, nurses, aids… are now looking for jobs. All will be truly missed. I believe that at the end everyone will be ok and adjust.. but the St. Agnes family is separating and this breaks my heart.
bob barrett January 28, 2014 at 03:22 PM
I would like to know how many parents of St. Agnes school are parishioners. I recall about 2years ago when Father Cohan announced the school closing many parents of school kids were ver rude,obnoxious in front of church telling church goers not to attend church or don't put money in basket. Frankly, I did not recognize any of the protestors as St. Agnes attendees. When Father Cohan appealed to our attendees to increase the Weekly donation to offset the deficit unfortunately not enough choose to increase. The extra $2000 weekly was less than 1/3 of the deficit. I know from reading the bulletin that a great deal of effort went into getting more funds. But I guess the only solution was to get more students. It is sad but we have to face that realty. The dollars are not there to fund deficits for the school over $300,000 annually.
Danielle Tumminia Dudas January 28, 2014 at 03:46 PM
Kudos Viv.....
joe January 28, 2014 at 04:51 PM
Dear Viv, I'm not sure, just where I stated that no one worked hard...Just the opposite, People did work very hard, parishioners that do not even have children in the school not only worked hard but they also funded in hopes to keep the school open. St Catharine's where Fr Cohan just came from merged their School into Academy of Our Lady. (http://www.academyofourlady.org) and did not close. Sadly you see less and less school family's going to Mass and that's a shame for the children growing up in a world where God doesn't come first. Pastors come and go but it's the people that make a parish not one person. You are way off base though insinuating Fr Cohan's holiness or anyone's, that's between God and them.
Viv January 28, 2014 at 06:15 PM
Dear Joe, I am not talking about the parishioner’s working, I’m talking about those SAS parents who are also parishioners who have worked to keep the school open. I am aware of a few parishioners who volunteered their time to work in some the school’s fundraisers, I have meet wonderful parishioners who I am very fond of. If there has been any funding from the parish to help the school, I was not aware of this. I wonder of anyone in the school was? Regardless the school is a done deal, the church will go on, you will still go to your mass with Fr. Cohan. It’s obvious that you like him. I do not. That’s obvious too and I respect your opinion please respect mine. As far a school families going to mass… plenty do go and they also put $ in the basket. A pastor is the foundation of the church along with the school community, when he lies and maliciously calculates the closing of the school and is non supportive in any way shape or form, he will lose those school parishioners… doesn’t matter, people will leave… you have to have that ‘connect’ with the pastor… however, there are other parishes out there who have Pastors who are actively involved in the church as well as the school and will know the children by name. So I’m way off base? Like I said before, because they wear “holy attire’ doesn’t make them holy… all those other holy priest who sinned by child abuse… its between them and God? Talk to the parents of the children those HOLY priest abused. . Seeing things thru a SAS parent, that facts remind that Fr. Cohan did not partake with the school… period. He had no intent to move the school on for another 50 years as he told the school parents in a meeting one day. That was joke… on us! I’m done with this conversation.
joe January 29, 2014 at 07:58 AM
Dear Viv, I know that ill will be praying for you and your children.
StAgnesSchoolRocks February 21, 2014 at 09:20 AM
The teachers and staff don't compare to any other school in the area, public or private! ST AGNES SCHOOL ROCKS!
StAgnesSchoolRocks February 21, 2014 at 09:23 AM
can't wait to hear what the Pope has to say about all this!!! BTW Myers and Cohan, maybe they are related??? same intentions for sure!!! money in their pocket, nice trips and vacations, cars and homes, keep closing those schools for that private jet you want!
bob barrett February 21, 2014 at 02:29 PM
I feel it is inappropriate to include father Cohan with the school closing to Myers with his extravagant expenditures for his personal use. I am sure the Archbishop will not be cooking, cleaning, washing clothes or buying groceries , cutting grass, maintaining the pools , snow removal etc.during his Golden years. How much is this going to cost our parishioners? But I must assume that he has been experiencing the perks for many years.

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