Pittsburgh, Pa., Feb 15, 2021 / 04:47 pm (CNA).- Four Catholic elementary schools will merge to form two schools for the school year beginning in fall 2021, the Diocese of Pittsburgh has said, as the local bishop stressed their continued importance.
“Catholic schools are vital to the future of both our Church and our world,” Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh said Feb. 12. “They educate minds, hearts, and spirits, teaching the value of service as they prepare young people to become productive citizens and future leaders.”
“Each day I thank God for all who faithfully support our Catholic schools,” said Zubik. “They serve our students, our diocese, and Jesus himself.”
Saint Elizabeth of Hungary school in Pleasant Hills will merge with Saint Gabriel of the Sorrowful Virgin in Whitehall. The Saint Gabriel campus will serve as the main site of the merged school.
Saint Phillip school in Crafton will merge with Saint Margaret of Scotland school in Green Tree, whose campus will serve the merged school.
Father David Poecking, president of South Regional Catholic Elementary Schools, said the decision follows “more than a year’s deliberation and many, many hours of study.”
“While change can be difficult, we can bring together the best of the past to support a strong future for the newly merged schools,” Poecking said.
The mergers were recommended after study of financial and demographic data, enrollment trends, and consultation with the parish and school communities.
Zubik approved the merger on the recommendations of the South Regional Catholic Elementary Schools, which became the new regional governing board in July 2020. It had previously served as an advisory board since its creation in 2017.
The Pittsburgh diocese credited the board with stabilizing enrollment and finances. It sees progress in regional organization of some schools.
“With regional governance, all of the parishes in a geographic region support Catholic school education and all have a voice in forwarding the mission of those schools,” the diocese said.
Michelle Peduto, Director of Catholic Schools, said the diocese’s school system will continue to work “to provide families with spiritually vibrant, academically excellent and financially sustainable Catholic schools for generations to come.”
The diocese is continuing a strategic planning initiative begun in 2015 in part as a response to declining Mass attendance, the financial struggles of some parishes, and fewer priests.
The diocese’s “On Mission for The Church Alive” initiative has been working to merge what were 188 parishes into what ultimately will be fewer than 60 parish groupings.
In November 2020, the diocese announced that it would begin a third round of parish mergers. This stage of the parish merging plan aims to reduce 107 parishes to 81.
The diocese faced controversy after the 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report, which detailed sexual abuse allegations in six of Pennsylvania’s eight Latin-rite dioceses, including Pittsburgh. In 2020 CBS Pittsburgh reported that since the report’s release, Mass attendance had dropped 9% and offertory donations declined 11%.
Several hundred sexual abuse claims have also posed significant financial difficulties for the diocese.
Even in 2018, regular Sunday Mass attendees numbered only 120,000, a 30% decline from 10 years before. There are about 628,000 Catholics in the diocese’s territory, according to the diocese’s website.