– The Associated Press

BROCKTON, Mass. – Floors cracked and walls collapsed in Christine Jennifer Delma’s Port-au-Prince school when the catastrophic earthquake struck in January.

Outside, the frightened 10-year-old watched panicked victims with bloody faces running in the streets of Haiti and screaming out for loved ones.

“I saw the people who lost their arms, their feet,” said Christine. “I saw people who were crying. I was like ‘Oh no.’“

The earthquake destroyed her school, her family’s home and killed around 230,000.

Today, Christine and her 12-year-old sister, Sergine, are enrolled at the Trinity Catholic Academy in Brockton, Mass., close to where their family has relocated. The girls are among the 20 or so Haitian refugee children who have resettled in Massachusetts and have opted to enroll in Boston-area Roman Catholic schools instead of public schools. Another 100 are expected to enroll this fall.

The numbers are small, but local Catholic leaders are embracing the new refugee students as a way to diversify their student bodies and build relationships toward the church’s mission to help low-income and immigrant populations.

The refugees come at a time when Massachusetts Catholic schools are reporting stagnant or declining enrollment numbers, said Lynn Sullivan, senior program officer of the Catholic Schools Foundation in Boston.

At the same time they can offer spiritual guidance to the devastated families.

“I think we can help each other,” Sullivan said. “This is a potential growth population with future students for our schools.”

Among Catholic schools in the Boston Archdiocese, overall enrollment has dropped to 30,000 students from 153,000 in 1965 with a number of schools across the state closing or consolidating in the last decade.

About 75 percent of the Boston’s current Catholic school student body is white with 14 percent black or Haitian. Latinos make us the rest of the student body.

Cardinal Sean O’Malley, who has repeatedly said that he believes serving low-income and immigrant populations are important missions of the church, has been a big advocate at reviving area Catholic schools. He has also visited Haiti twice since the earthquake.

Along with learning English and catching up with school work, school officials say the new Haitian students are still trying to comes to terms with the horror of the earthquake — an emotional journey that sometimes includes random crying and breakdowns over something as small as a fire drill.

About a quarter of the $100,000 Catholic Schools Foundation emergency tuition fund has been set aside for new Haitian students.