CLAREMONT, N.H. — St. Mary’s Church announced the closure of The John Paul Academy, a Catholic school for grades pre-k through 12 that opened last fall, due to a lower than needed student enrollment and lack of capital to continue.
Father Shawn Therrien, pastor of St. Mary’s, officially notified parishioners, school parents and staff in a letter, published in the church’s weekly news bulletin on Sunday, of the decision while adding that he still hopes to have a Catholic school in the building.
“I am sure there are things we could have done better, but no form of armchair quarterbacking is ever helpful,” wrote Therrien. “Therefore, we move forward continuing the good that we are doing. This school will be used for our religious education formation, additional education opportunities, adult faith formation, and as a meeting space.”
John Paul II Academy marked St. Mary’s first attempt to reopen a Catholic parochial school in Claremont since St. Mary’s School closed in 2008. St. Mary’s School, which opened in 1823, was the first Roman Catholic school in the state of New Hampshire.
St. Mary’s school building, located on 10 Central Street, has housed educational programs since 1890, when the St. Mary’s School made the building its campus. When St. Mary’s School closed, the New England Classical Academy — a classical education school based in the Catholic tradition, though not part of the Catholic diocese — took over the building, from 2007 through June 2018, when St. Mary’s announced its intent to open the John Paul Academy.
Tom Bebbington, communications director for the Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire, said that parochial schools in New Hampshire have experienced increasing funding difficulties due to changing population demographics. This past decade saw the closure of two other parochial schools in the state: St. Patrick’s in Jaffree, which closed in 2015, and in June the Infant Jesus School in Nashua closed after 100 years in operation.
“What tends to happen is that over the years, the number of churchgoing Catholics have declined, and there are fewer younger families in the parishes,” Bebbington said. “It becomes harder for the older parishioners to keep up with the cost and demands to operate the school, and fewer young families also means fewer children and students.”
Bebbington also pointed to a socio-geographic shift, that shows more people and wealth moving from the urban centers to the suburbs and outskirts, which appeared to be true around Nashua.
Parochial schools are one of three types of Catholic schools, said Bebbington. Parochial models, like St. Mary’s School and John Paul Academy, are Catholic schools directly attached to a specific parish, in which the school principal or headmaster reports directly to the church pastor. A diocesan school, like Bishop Brady High School in Concord, is not attached to a parish and reports to the school superintendent of the Manchester Diocese. The third type is a private Catholic school which is run by a religious order and abides by the religious instructional requirements of the diocese. Mount Royal Academy in Sunapee is a lay-run school recognized as Catholic by the diocese of Manchester.
Therrien could not be reached for comment.
Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect the fact that Mount Royal Academy in Sunapee is not run by a religious order.