By Dave Jolivet
FALL RIVER — On March 8, the Diocese of Fall River announced that Bishop Connolly High School in Fall River would cease operations at the end of the 2022-23 academic year. Despite the diocese’s best efforts to maintain the operational and financial viability of this school, the continued decline in enrollment and substantial financial impact of the pandemic and current economic environment proved unsustainable.
News about the closing of Bishop Connolly High School came as a shock to many in the Fall River community and beyond. What had been a mainstay in the city’s north end on Elsbree Street since 1966 is closing its doors at the end of the current academic year.
While the news was a terrible blow, especially to the students, their parents and guardians, and the faculty and staff, it has been a time when this group has rallied around each other for support and comfort.
Over the past several years, the Diocese of Fall River has worked hard to maintain educational excellence, expand enrollment and recruitment activities, and bolster financial aid opportunities at the school. Despite these efforts, Bishop Connolly has experienced a significant decline in enrollment and, as a result, the diocese has spent over $1 million to sustain the school over the past five years. The diocese said in a press release that it no longer has the resources to continue to keep Bishop Connolly operational.
“While we sincerely regret having to close Bishop Connolly, our ultimate goal is to strengthen Catholic education in the Diocese for the future,” said Daniel S. Roy, Superintendent of Schools for the Diocese of Fall River. “We are committed to helping families transition to other diocesan Catholic high schools and to make the process as seamless as possible.”
Many have experienced across the diocese over the years, the closing of a school or parish is a death of sorts evoking feelings of grief and disbelief. But the Bishop Connolly community is trying to respond with resilience, support and faith in God.
In an interview with The Anchor, Bishop Connolly President and Principal, Kathleen St. Laurent shared how bittersweet the reactions have been. “This is so sad that such a beautiful family and campus is experiencing this loss,” she said. “As a community, we believe that God calls us to where we are supposed to be. It is heartwarming and encouraging to see the Connolly family being so supportive of each other.
“This is a grieving process, especially for the students and their families, and it’s unbelievable how they have reached out to us with support and gratitude.”
St. Laurent provided The Anchor with an example of the love expressed by families. In emails, a few parents wrote: “We are very saddened with the news of the closing of your school. We know how hard you and the staff work to build a community of love and values that we decided to send our daughter to your school. We appreciate everything you have done and we will pray for everyone.”
A second said, “I know all too well that school is a second home, not just for students, but for all the teachers and staff. Please know that you have all made such a difference in the lives of so many and that work will live on and reverberate in many homes, workplaces and communities.”
A third commented, “We are heartbroken with BCHS closing but appreciate all you have done.”
St. Laurent said that last September, the school had brought in a counselor from St. Vincent’s Services as an adjunct staff member, to be there for students should then need it. This was done without knowledge of what was to come. “The counselor has been working with students to help them with the transition, as have members of the faculty and administration.
“The students love this school and are a close knit group, but they are showing great resilience. They are truly a community of faith,” she said.
The faculty and staff are giving the students the assistance and encouragement they need to complete this school year, and beyond.
“We continue to experience very challenging times that have put an even greater financial strain on many families,” said Bishop da Cunha. “So many people have extraordinary needs amidst this economic uncertainty, and the diocese needs to leverage its precious resources to an even greater extent. We are confident that our Catholic school leadership will provide both pastoral support and educational guidance to all affected families so that their children can transition and be welcomed into a new Catholic school family.”
St. Laurent said that Timothy Sullivan and James Benson, presidents of Bishop Feehan High School in Attleboro and Bishop Stang High School in North Dartmouth respectively, are standing with the Connolly community during the final stages of this year and the students’ future next year. “Tim and Jim have already indicated that all students at Bishop Connolly are accepted in their respective schools should they choose to attend one or the other,” said St. Laurent.
She also said that the diocese will work with the faculty and staff in assisting them with their future endeavors. No one is being left behind without guidance and support.
In addition to the immediate Connolly family, many alumni have reached out with words of comfort and support.
“Bishop Connolly High School will live on in these students here today and those who have studied in these classrooms through the years,” St. Laurent told The Anchor. “The Bishop Connolly mission of being ‘Not only hearers, but doers of the Word,’ will carry on well past this sad time in its history. The mission will go on.”
Today, there are over 5,300 students from six weeks old through 12th grade in 19 Catholic schools from Attleboro to Cape Cod.