Parents of students who attended the recently closed Saint Raphael Elementary want to know what happened to $250,000 they raised in an effort to keep the school open. They’re also demanding increased transparency from the parish and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh.
“They didn’t do right by us, obviously, here. Even though we had poured our hearts out,” said Jerry Maloney, whose sixth-grade son and second-grade daughter were supposed to start school at Saint Raphael this week. His children are now attending Sacred Heart Elementary School in Shadyside.
Parishioners said they were told they needed to raise $150,000 by early February, to keep the Morningside Neighborhood parochial school open.
With the help of an anonymous donor, supporters surpassed that goal, raising $250,000. But the board of Pittsburgh East Regional Catholic Elementary Schools decided to close Saint Raphael’s anyway, citing low enrollment.
“With only 39 students confirmed … for the 2019-2020 academic year, a quality Catholic education is not possible,” wrote board president Fr. Kris Stubna, in a letter dated August 3. “All classes have fewer than 10 students, including two students each in fourth and seventh grade, three students each in sixth and eighth grade and four students in second grade.”
Some, like parent Jerry Maloney, wonder if this money, either directly or indirectly, was used to help the church pay for the fallout of last year’s grand jury report on sexual abuse in the diocese.
Stubna said this is not the case, and rather that money went to filling a budget shortfall from the previous school year.
No was documentation was provided to show exactly how the $250,000 was used, but parish administrator Father Joseph Mele said in an emailed statement that each fall, “an annual financial statement for the parish community" is published.
Saint Raphael parent John McCarthy said that he believes the Pittsburgh Diocese never had any intention of keeping Saint Raphael open, citing “chronic instability” caused by frequent leadership changes. He believes that instability motivated parents to register their kids elsewhere and said that the diocese has demonstrated “for years,” that it prioritizes schools located in Pittsburgh’s suburbs over the city’s blue-collar neighborhoods.
“Parishes that are larger and wealthier are clearly favored,” said McCarthy. “I’m disappointed and angry that they’ve been ignoring these longtime parish schools and letting them die on the vine.”
Stubna said the board, parish and diocese tried to be as transparent as possible in its decision to close Saint Raphael. He cited demographic changes as a main factor; an issue that’s also challenged Pittsburgh’s public-school system.
“Times have changed, there are less people living in certain communities … there are less families,” said Stubna.
This post was updated at 4:17 pm on Friday, August 30 to correct the timeline of when parishioners were notified of the school’s possible closure.