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Hundreds Rally To Urge Rebuilding Of Cathedral High School


The fate of historic Cathedral High School, the only Catholic high school in Springfield, Massachusetts, hangs in the balance.  A group of activists is campaigning to get a new school built on the spot where a tornado wrecked the Cathedral building more than three years ago.

The campaign to rebuild Cathedral High School, which includes lawn signs, bumper stickers, lobbying, endorsements from prominent politicians, letter writing, social media, radio and TV interviews is aimed at securing the vote of just one person—Bishop Mitchell Rozanski.

A campaign kickoff Thursday night drew a standing room only crowd of 400 people to a church social hall just down the street from the ruins of Cathedral High School on Surrey Road. The people cheered and applauded as speakers including a current student, a parent, a teacher, and a neighbor spoke passionately about Cathedral being part of the fabric of the region’s Catholic community and a fixture in the East Forest Park Neighborhood.    

The audience included neighborhood residents, current and retired Cathedral teachers, elected city and state officials, at least three state judges, and Cathedral alumni.  Pauline Sawyer of Agawam, who graduated from Cathedral in 1960, said her daughter and son-in-law both attended Cathedral and she hopes her grandchildren will someday.

" You have to have faith. Faith in God that He will see it through."

The rally was organized by the Committee for Cathedral Action, a group that formed more than a year ago out of frustration that no firm decision had been made about Cathedral’s future since the June 1, 2011 tornado. Committee chairman Al DiLascia said the group aims to demonstrate a broad consensus on what should happen to Cathedral.

Credit WAMC
Springfield City Councilor Tim Rooke, a member of the Committee for Cathedral Action speaks at Thursday night's rally.

" This  group is creative with good constructive ideas. They care about Cathedral. There is no other agenda," said DiLascia.

Supporters of rebuilding Cathedral High School on Surrey Road, where the school was built in 1959, cheered last March when now retired Bishop Timothy McDonnell announced the school would be rebuilt at its current location using money from FEMA and a portion of a $50 million insurance settlement.

Bishop Rozanski, who was installed in August as head of the Springfield Diocese, issued a statement two weeks ago ordering a new study because he had heard mixed opinions on what should become of  Cathedral.

Monsignor John Bonzagni, who heads the diocesan planning office, said he will meet with “ stakeholders” in small groups during the next few weeks.  Bonzagni said there is no timetable for a final decision.

" It is not a done deal in terms of yes we are going to rebuild, or no we are not going to rebuild," said Bonzagni. " What is a done deal is we are going to start having a conversation about what is the best way to go."

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno has pledged to “fight tooth and nail” to see Cathedral rebuilt at its current location.

" We had a deal. We had a deal with Bishop McDonnell. I would hope they would be respectful of that deal and get Cathedral rebuilt ASAP," said Sarno.

Congressman Richard Neal, whose four children attended Cathedral, said he worked hard to secure the FEMA money and was “shocked” by the turn of events.

There were worries about Cathedral’s financial sustainability even before the tornado. A spokesman for the diocese said $11 million from parishioners throughout western Massachusetts was used to support the school’s operation in the last 15 years.

Newly released figures show enrollment has plunged by more than 550 in the last 10   years.  Current enrollment is 217

Since the tornado Cathedral classes have been held at a former elementary school in Wilbraham.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.
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