Under financial pressure, Rockville Centre diocese sells pastoral center, closes several schools

St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre, New York. Credit: Nassau Crew via Wikimedia (CC0 1.0) St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre, New York. Credit: Nassau Crew via Wikimedia (CC0 1.0)

In the wake of bankruptcy filings, the Diocese of Rockville Centre in March announced the sale of its $5.2 million pastoral center to help pay creditors. It also announced the closure of three more grammar schools on Long Island, noting additional financial troubles from the coronavirus pandemic.

According to Father Eric Fasano, the diocese’s vicar general, the move from the pastoral center will save costs.

“The sale and our relocation will have no effect on our ministry. In fact, the operating efficiencies that will result are expected to free resources that can be directed to those with the greatest need,” Fasano said March 26.

The property at 50 North Park Avenue in Rockville Centre includes a five-story building and a parking lot with space for about 58 cars. It has been sold to Synergy Holding Partners LLC.

The diocese had begun marketing the building in 2018 after it determined it was no longer cost effective. The diocese said it does not currently use all the space in the building. It plans to move to offices better suited to its needs.

The sale was approved by the bankruptcy court. All proceeds from the sale will go exclusively to creditors, the diocese and the official committee of unsecured creditors have agreed.

The diocese will remain in the building until Aug. 31.

In October 2020 the diocese announced it would file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, after more than 200 new clergy sex abuse lawsuits being filed against the diocese. Bishop John Barres said the diocese would not be able to carry out its spiritual, charitable, and educational missions if it had to shoulder “the increasingly heavy burden of litigation expenses associated with these cases.”

New York State’s 2019 Child Victims Act allowed for sex abuse lawsuits to be filed in past cases where survivors had not yet taken action, long after the statute of limitations had expired.

The coronavirus pandemic and accompanying restrictions have decreased diocesan revenues by as much as 40%, The NonProfit Times reports.

Last month the diocese announced the closure of three schools at the end of the current school year, saying the pandemic and its effects placed “significant burden” on schools that were already struggling.

Saint Raymond School, founded in 1927, was run by the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary at the campus of the parish of Saint Raymond in East Rockaway. Enrollment in nursery school through eighth grade had declined 49% to 130 students at the start of the 2020 school year. Last school year was subsidized by $330,000 from the parish and the diocese.

Saint Thomas the Apostle School in West Hempstead was founded in 1950 and originally run by the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Its enrollment in nursery school through eighth grade now stands at 209, a decline of 35% over five years. It relied on a $1 million parish subsidy in the last five years to stay open, plus another $272,000 from the parish and the diocese in the 2019-2020 school year.

Saint Christopher School in Baldwin has been staffed by the Sisters of St. Joseph since 1925. Its student enrollment of nursery school through eighth grade fell 41 percent from 2015, totaling only 179 students at the start of the 2020 school year.

Despite the parish efforts to manage costs, school operations needed a $350,000 subsidy each year.

Sean P. Dolan, the diocese’s director of communications, said March 16 that the diocese is “deeply saddened” by the closures. Dolan said enrollment declines and the effects of the pandemic on parish offertory collections and school fundraising mean that it is not feasible to keep the schools open.

“The Diocese of Rockville Centre thanks the dedicated and committed principal and teachers, both lay and religious, who have taught in these schools,” he said.

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The diocese said students from the closed schools would be welcomed into other schools.

The three schools add to seven other grammar schools that have closed in the past year because of declining enrollments.

The diocese still operates over 30 parish and regional elementary schools. According to 2018 figures on the diocese’s website, over 13,700 students were enrolled in Catholic elementary schools in the diocese and over 10,500 enrolled in nine Catholic high schools. The enrollment figures include Catholic schools not run by the diocese.

The diocese’s territory on Long Island includes the counties of Nassau and Suffolk. It serves some 1.4 million Catholics out of 3 million residents, one of the largest dioceses by population in the U.S. The diocese has about 130 parishes.

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