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North Shore Catholic Schools Strong

This article from written and published by Steve Krause and The Daily Item on June 19, 2020.

Although the Archdiocese of Boston says that 10 percent of its schools will close due to economic conditions brought about by COVID-19, four local Catholic high schools are weathering the storm thus far.

St. Mary’s, Bishop Fenwick, St. John’s Preparatory and Malden Catholic are all expecting their incoming freshman classes to flourish, representatives of the schools said this week.

Dr. John Dolan, Head of School for St. Mary’s in Lynn, outlined the parameters of the issue.

“Affordability issues have come up,” said Dolan. “People have lost positions, or at least haven’t retained their core positions. They’ve lost overtime. Real estate isn’t moving, and there are no homes being sold.

“Families have taken financial hits. We’ve spent long days on the phone with them. You don’t want to expose them to more financial hardships, or compound the ones they already have.”

Yet  he said, “You don’t want parents to have to tell their sons and daughters they can no longer attend the schools they had their heart set on attending, either.”

St. Mary’s, which charges $16,475 for grades 9-12 and $10,425 for 6-8, has helped the families out in a variety of ways. One is through the FACTS tuition management program, which Dolan likens to a “high school version of the FAFSA forms you fill out for college financial aid.

“It’s an arduous system,” said Dolan. “You have to be qualified. We have adjudicated many grants through the program.”

Two schools — Fenwick and Malden Catholic — believe their fortunes are on the rise for the coming year despite the hardships some families face due to COVID-19 economic issues.

Fenwick’s tuition is $15,450 and, like all Catholic schools, it has exploded over the past two decades.

“There are a lot of reasons for that,” said president Thomas Nunan. “There are less people from religious orders teaching and more lay teachers. Also, where you could probably put 30-40 kids

in a classroom  30 years ago, you can’t now. So that means more teachers, too.”

Fenwick — like all private schools — counts on the generosity of  its alumni, fundraisers, and philanthropy to come up with enough funds to offer assistance to families that need it.

“We’ve increased our financial aid in some cases to returning families,” Nunan said. “We don’t want to lose anyone due to COVID-19. That’s our goal.”

Fenwick did a “giving day” May 5, and in that one day raised $22,000.

“Other major gifts have come in since then,” Nunan said. “Our board of trustees is amazing. They wanted to double their personal giving this year because of COVID. I think that by June 30, they’ll have met their challenge of doubling their support for Fenwick.”

Nunan also feels that the school’s success with remote learning in the last three months helped increase its popularity among prospective freshmen.

“We were up and running March 16 with a full virtual program that we continued through last Friday,” he said. “Now, we’re seeing more people applying to Fenwick. This summer I think we’ll see a lot of admissions activity.”

Similarly, Malden Catholic has survived the past three months as well. The school draws students from Lynn, Saugus, Revere and even Lynnfield and Peabody, and its annual tuition is $16,500.

Like Fenwick, Malden Catholic had an annual fundraiser in the spring — this one called the “UnGala,” so called because it was done virtually. It brought in $86,000.

“It was kind of set up like one of those PBS specials,” said Dianne James, director of communications, “with entertainment challenges. And we had a challenge where, if we reached a certain figure, our assistant principal (Lynn’s Jeff Smith) would have to shave his head.

“We streamed it live, and had hundreds of people watching,” James said.

Malden Catholic handled the stress of the COVID-induced recession “family by family,” James said. “We worked with every family that reached out to us. We are fortunate to  have had tremendous support for the school.”

Malden Catholic, like St. John’s Prep, is not part of the archdiocesan system. Both schools are run through the Xaverian Brothers. But even the ones that are part of that system, such as Fenwick, do not receive financial support through the chancery.

“We don’t get any money from the archdiocese,” Nunan said.

James said Malden Catholic is looking at an incoming freshman class of 180 students, both male and female. It has undergone an administrative transformation over the past year, starting with a new headmaster (John K. Thornburg) and, just last week, switched to a single-principal setup for both boys and girls schools — Rosa Maria Redman. Brother Thomas Puccio, the principal of the school for 26 years, will serve as director of mission integration.

“This school is as strong as ever,” said James.

At St. John’s (tuition $24,100), headmaster Edward Hardiman said the pandemic and resulting economic downturn “presented some challenges early on,” but said that the school identified four priorities to guide it: maintain current staffing levels, maintain access to a St. John’s education, ensure a continued strong school, and to strengthen and enhance its programs.

“Our goal is to provide a Prep education for qualified students regardless of economics,” said Hardiman. “For Fiscal Year 2021, we will provide $6.5 million in tuition assistance, and we’re always looking for ways to increase that.

“And it’s through philanthropy and financial stewardship,” Hardiman said. “We recognized we’re in a disruptive and transformational time. We need to be judicious about how we allocate our funds. What are our priorities? That’s what governs us in negotiating these financial challenges.”

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