.- A Catholic religious order has announced that it will sell one of its New Hampshire primary schools to a group of parents to ensure continuing support for Catholic education, the Union Leader reports.
Five months ago, the order called Religious of Jesus and Mary told parents that they could no longer support the 90-year-old Villa Augustina school in Goffstown. The closure of the K-8 school was considered almost certain.
However, in the intervening months enterprising parents raised $400,000 for repairs to the school and another $120,000 for its purchase.
Sister Janet Stolba, the U.S. provincial for the Religious of Jesus and Mary, along with the order’s governing council in Rome, approved the sale after parents submitted a five-year plan for the school’s future. News of the order’s general government approving the decision arrived on Monday.
Sr. Stolba praised the parents for their commitment to Catholic education, saying they were an inspiration to the order.
"They have been extraordinary with what they have accomplished in such a short period of time," Stolba said. "It gives such great joy to all of the sisters."
Sr. Stolba said in a statement that she sees the agreement to keep Villa open as a continuation of Pope Benedict’s teaching that Catholic education "springs from the heart of the Church."
“At the Villa, the future of Catholic education has also sprung from the hearts of the faculty, administration, staff, and families. We take up the Pope's charge to continue the mission of Catholic institutions, and we take on with joy our important role as "instruments of hope,” she added.
The deal will allow Villa Augustina to reopen next year as an independent Catholic school for students ranging from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade.
Carol Barrett, the chair of a leadership transition team comprised of schoolchildren’s parents, said the widow of a student’s father at his funeral on Sunday encouraged the team to continue.
"She said, 'We really don't want another loss in the family. Keep the Villa open,'" Barrett said. “It was really heartwarming."
Barrett learned of the agreement’s approval on Monday. She said the leadership team is now focused on hiring a new principal and electing boards of directors for the two corporations established to handle the transition.
She said she was confident that parents could raise the $400,000 needed to purchase the school. She said the Benedictine monks at St. Anselm College had donated $100,000 for the purchase and the college president, Fr. Jonathan DeFelice, is helping parents raise the remaining amount.
Sr. Stolba said she is confident that parents will be able to buy and run the school.
"Barring unforeseen circumstances, it appears that everything is a go," she said, according to the Union Leader. "We can't think of any reason at all why it wouldn't.”
A formal purchase-and-sale agreement is now required. Sr. Stolba expected the agreement to be reached in mid-May.