Saint Francis closure highlights struggle for Catholic schools to stay afloat

There are just more than 30 Catholic schools left in Hawaii, educating roughly 8,000 students

Saint Francis closure highlights struggle for Catholic schools to stay afloat

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A day after the abrupt and stunning announcement to entirely close Saint Francis School in Manoa, emotions among students are still fresh.

“I feel sad that the school is closing entirely,” said fifth grader Reina Chia. “I liked it because everyone was nice and I had a lot of friends here…I don’t know what school I’m going to go to yet.”

Junior Donnie Locsin-Buechner will be going to Maryknoll School to further his Catholic education. He said not being able to graduate from a school he has attended since preschool is devastating.

“It would have been really nice to have graduated from here. I would have been a lifer. It’ll be hard for a lot of us knowing that we can’t graduate here, it kind of hurts,” Locsin-Buechner said.

It has been a struggle for Catholic schools both locally and nationally to keep enrollment up without raising tuition. There are 33 Catholic schools left in the state educating about 8,000 students.

Philip Bossert, Executive Director for Hawaii Association of Independent Schools, said the closure of Saint Francis School has shocked many in the Catholic community.

“It's quite unusual for a school that old and that prominent to close," Bossert said.

In June, St. Anthony School in Kalihi closed its doors, citing declining enrollment.

Bossert said one of the factors to the schools’ financial troubles is the sisters and the brothers are no longer teaching in the classrooms.

“Most parish schools not just Catholic, but also to some extent some of the other religious groups too, they had almost free labor, at least room and board they got. And a number of what they say vocations have gone down and the number of sisters and brothers are not available to teach. They’re replacing almost free labor with 40, 50, 60-thousand-a-year teachers,” said Bossert.

Although it is a challenge for many campuses, the head of Hawaii Catholic Schools reminds families to have faith.

“Almost every one of the schools – Maryknoll, Saint Louis, Sacred Hearts – they’re doing great things – Saint Anthony on Maui, Saint Joseph’s in Hilo. The parochial schools on Oahu, there are great things happening. So, come and visit, ‘Come and see’ as the Lord said, come and see and I think they’ll see something special in our communities and our education," said Superintendent for Hawaii Catholic Schools Michael Rockers.

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