St. Mary School photo
Students in front of the kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school in historic downtown Albany.
St. Mary School photo
Students in front of the kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school in historic downtown Albany.

ALBANY — St. Mary School publicly announced today that it will close its doors in June. Officials cited dropping enrollment and, consequently, decreased funding as reasons for the closure 127-year-old school.

In a letter to Father Andrew Thomas, pastor of St. Mary Parish, Archbishop John G. Vlazny wrote that he “regretfully” gives permission for the school to close under the recommendation of the parish.  

“In this Year of Faith it is my responsibility as your spiritual shepherd and pastor of our parish to help foster a strong supportive community here at St. Mary's. We pray for the children, families and staff of St. Mary’s School,” Father Thomas wrote in a letter that was sent to parents today.

In September, enrollment had dropped to 60 students, which put such a financial pinch on the school, leaders contemplated immediate closure.

The school reported a 95-student enrollment in January 2012, and 109 in 2007.
“Doing what we would like to do and doing what is right do not always coincide,” the pastor said to his community in October. “I will always be a promoter of Catholic education, but here at St. Mary's we have come to a crossroads. In conscience we cannot financially support a declining student body, and in good stewardship we truly must face the reality.

“This is one of those times when the right answer is an extremely difficult and heart-wrenching one,” he said.

Originally known as Our Lady of Perpetual Help Academy, the school opened in 1886, one year after the parish was established in Albany. For more than a century, the Benedictine Sisters of Mount Angel served there, following their charism to “welcome all guests as Christ.”  

 In 1952, St. Mary Parish purchased the Catholic school from the Benedictine Sisters, who remained on as administrators and teachers. About 20 years after the parish bought the school, the 85-year-old building was demolished and replaced with the current, one-story structure.

The school added middle school grades in the mid-2000s. The expansion was brought about by a shortage of Catholic schools in the mid-valley. The nearest Catholic schools offering sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade education were in Salem and Eugene.

Father Thomas said the parish and school would spend the remainder of the academic year honoring and celebrating the school’s 127-year history.

“Even in this difficult time, we want to acknowledge all that St. Mary’s School has been, and together celebrate the years that we have served our youththrough our school,” he said.

School officials closed St. Joseph School in Roseburg in 2004, citing chronic low enrollment. St. Francis of Assisi School in Roy was slated for closure in 2004, until last-minute fundraising and a jump in enrollment helped resuscitate the school’s finances. Star of the Sea School in Astoria, the last Catholic school on the Oregon Coast, closed in 2011.

Oregon schools are not the only ones facing the problems of decreasing enrollment and unstable financial support. Yesterday, school officials in the New York metropolitan area announced that two-dozen Catholic schools there would close. According to the National Catholic Education Association, 1,924 schools were closed or consolidated between 2000 and 2012. Most seriously impacted are elementary schools.