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Catholic Schools Merger Proposal Leaves Many Questions


A new regional Catholic high school is going to be built in western Massachusetts. A decision on a location for the new school is still pending. That has caused anxiety for the many advocates of rebuilding the tornado-ruined Cathedral High School in Springfield.

Springfield Bishop Mitchell Rozanski says merging 130-year-old Cathedral High School and Holyoke Catholic High School is the best way to assure the long-term financial sustainability of Catholic secondary education in the region.

"Bringing together two great legacies as a new school for what would be an exciting new chapter in Catholic education here in western Massachusetts," Rozanski said.

The proposed merger, announced Monday, was the outcome of a study Rozanski ordered to determine the fate of Cathedral, whose students have been taking classes in a former elementary school in Wilbraham since the June 1, 2011 tornado wrecked the high school building in Springfield.

Holyoke Catholic is located in a former parish school in Chicopee.  The location lacks such amenities as an auditorium and outdoor athletic fields.

" Having a new building that is sustainable and with the proper facilities is an exciting prospect," said Rozanski.

Rozanski said the 217-student Cathedral and Holyoke Catholic, with a current enrollment of about 245, will begin taking classes together in the fall of 2016 at a yet to be determined temporary location. He said he expects a decision in “a few months” on where a new school, with a capacity for 500-600 students, will be built.  A demographic analysis of the region that would be served by the new school will be conducted before a location is chosen.

" I believe in taking the time to do all these studies," Rosanski said. " We want to get this right for our students and for our church."

Proceeds from a $50 million insurance settlement for tornado damage to several church properties and aid from FEMA will be used to build the new high school, according to a spokesman for the diocese.

Rozanski’s much- anticipated announcement was only a partial victory for those who have been campaigning to get a new high school built on Surrey Road in Springfield, which has been home to Cathedral since 1959.   Rozanski said the Surrey Road location is part of the mix of possible sites.

Congressman Richard Neal said in his view Surrey Road is the “only logical site” for the school.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, in a statement released by his office, threatened to withhold aid from the diocese if the new regional high school is not built at the old Cathedral site.  The city provided $1 million for busing Cathedral students to the Wilbraham school, according to the mayor’s office.

City Council President Michael Fenton also endorsed withholding aid to the diocese unless a decision is made to build the new school on Surrey Road.

Al DiLascia, chairman of Committee for Cathedral Action, a group of alumni, parents, and  neighbors who have campaigned for rebuilding Cathedral on Surrey Road, said he is frustrated that no decision has been made on the location for the new school.

" If we were having our first meeting today, I would say ok look at this, and look at that, but my God is has been three years and nine months," exclaimed DiLascia.   " The bishop talked about bold decisions, well the bold decision is go ahead and build."

A new board, chaired by an educational consultant hired by the diocese, will be appointed to manage the details of the merger of Cathedral and Holyoke Catholic high schools and the construction of a new school.

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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