PORTLAND – When Cathedral School opened under the auspices of the Montreal-based Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame, the Civil War was still raging and Portland was two years from the Great Fire that destroyed much of the city.
Friday, the Diocese of Portland announced that rapidly climbing deficits will force it to close Cathedral at the end of its 147th year, leaving just one other parochial school in the city.
Cathedral will run a deficit of about $115,000 this year, and that figure would more than double if the school remained open next year, said Sue Bernard, spokeswoman for the diocese.
Enrollment for pre-kindergarten through eighth grade is just 136.
The diocese plans to meet with parents next month to discuss options for their children next year.
Bernard said the other parochial school in the city — St. Brigid on Stevens Avenue — is expected to have just a handful of openings next year.
The next nearest school is Holy Cross, but transportation to the South Portland school could be difficult for some parents, she said.
Bernard said the immediate impact is more emotional than logistical.
“The children will be impacted, but the people who will be impacted perhaps even more, or who will feel it in a profound way, are the people who went through the door themselves” in years past, said Bernard. “A piece of history is kind of going away.”
Bernard said finances were the only factor in the decision.
She said per-pupil costs were running about $4,200 a year, but the highest tuition was $3,925. Many parents paid less than that.
The cost for a student whose family is a member of the parish is $2,350 a year, and nearly two-thirds of the students’ families received financial aid from a school endowment and donations from other parishes in Portland.
Michele Bernier, whose son attended Cathedral through fifth grade last year and whose daughter is a fourth-grader this year, said she’s not ready to think about alternatives for next year just yet.
“We’re still in mourning,” Bernier said.
Bernier said she felt her children got a solid education in the classroom and perhaps learned as much outside of it, rubbing elbows and becoming friends with the children of immigrants and refugees who live in the area.
“It’s a place where people came together, parents and kids alike, from all over the world,” she said. “For me to send my kids there was a great gift.”
Bernier said she went to a parochial school as a child and she appreciates what it offers.
She said the children gather each morning and say prayers for sick classmates and ask their schoolmates to pray for a pet who died, a relative who is ill or even those in countries where there is violence.
“I think it’s unique and special, and I worry about the day when that might not be a choice for people,” she said.
Bernier and her husband have worked on a committee that has been looking for new funding sources for Cathedral for the past few years, she said, so the decision to close the school wasn’t a complete surprise.
“To say it’s a shock would be foolish. We’d have to be blind,” she said. “But a lot of parents believed it would never come to this.”
Bernard said the diocese couldn’t see any way to continue to cover the school’s losses.
It has provided $330,000 in emergency funding in the past, she said.
“We can look at it one way and say, ‘this is a very sad day,’” she said. “On the other hand, we can say, ‘think of the rich history we’ve had.’ It’s a very impressive run.”
Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: