St. Stephen School in Niles to close
By Jordan Cohen
St. Stephen School, a fixture of Catholic education here for 145 years, will permanently close at the end of the current school year — a victim of low enrollment and lack of funds.
“For the last four years, we’ve been running a deficit, and we really tried to raise the funds and enrollment, but we just didn’t have enough time,” said the Rev. Tom Kraszewski, pastor of St. Stephen parish for the last eight years.
According to the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown in its announcement of the closing Wednesday, St. Stephen’s enrollment had declined to 69 students from kindergarten through eighth grade — a drop of 67 percent from a high of 215 students in the 1998-99 school year. The school also has 19 preschool students.
Father Kraszewski said funding was an obstacle parishioners were unable to overcome. The diocese’ statement said an annual subsidy to the school of $190,000 was cut by $100,000 to enable the parish to “meet its other financial obligations.” The diocese said the school was instructed to raise $100,000 so that it could stay open and support its budget.
The fundraising effort did not come close.
“I don’t think we raised more than $12,000,” the priest said.
Christina Vince, principal for the last four years, said the school’s 13 teachers and other employees were not surprised by the parish recommendation to close the school.
“I think we knew it was coming, but it is saddening for all of us,” she said. The school met with families Monday night to tell them about the impending announcement before it was made public.
James Orsine of Niles said his wife attended St. Stephen as a child in the 1940s as did his daughter and his three young grandchildren today.
“I’m not surprised, but I’m disappointed,” Orsine said. “It’s a small community and our grandkids tell us they feel so comfortable there.”
Vince said representatives of other diocesan elementary schools — St. Rose in Girard, Warren John F. Kennedy lower campus, and St. Joseph Immaculate Heart of Mary in Austintown — will be invited to the parish to discuss options for parents who want to continue their children’s Catholic education.
The original St. Stephen School opened in 1868. The current building on South Chestnut Street, more than 50 years old, will not stand idle after the school is shut down, however, Father Kraszewski said.
“We have around 940 families, so there will be plenty of activities there,” he said. “It’s a parish resource.”