Bishop Kearney HS Is Closing: A loss to Catholic education

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Bishop Kearney High will close after August. (Photo: Todd Maisel/Bklyner)

BENSONHURST – Bishop Kearney High School, an all girls Catholic school on Bay Parkway in Mapleton will close its doors on August 31, leaving many young women wondering where to continue their education.

Many of the hundreds of Kearney students and their parents expressed shock at the sudden news issued last night with some students crying on the way to school this morning, parents said.

Children sit in the back seat of the car, getting ready to exit to go into Bishop Kearney High School. (Photo: Todd Maisel/Bklyner)
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The venerable Roman Catholic high school has educated girls since 1961 but has faced declining enrollment and rising expenses. The school is sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph located in Huntington Long Island – many Catholic high schools are no longer run by their local diocese.

Bishop Kearney’s closure was announced in a letter by Sister Helen Kearney, the congregation’s president and niece of the late bishop for whom the school was founded.

In recent years, the once thriving educational institution known for its Tiger mascot and for its strong academic and sports programs laid off staff, streamlined reunion gatherings and tried to implement other cost-cutting actions, including housing a Universal Pre-K.

Children walk to Bishop Kearney High this morning. (Photo: Todd Maisel/Bklyner)

The school has a current enrollment of 300 with alumni in the thousands in high-profile public and private careers in the tri-state area and beyond. High percentages of graduates went on to win college scholarships.

In her letter, posted on the school’s web page, Sister Kearney wrote about the school’s mission:

“For 58 years, dedicated administrators, faculty and staff have proudly served with our sisters in this mission. But today, we are faced with a difficult reality. Over the last few years declining enrollment, changing demographics, reduced income and increased expenses have required cuts in faculty and services. Over the years the Sisters of St. Joseph have eased the school’s financial pressures assume some of the school’s costs. The effort to improve the financial security of the school through rental of significant portion of the facility has not been sufficient to offset the loses,” Sister Kearney said in her letter.

Bishop Kearney High will close after August. (Photo: Todd Maisel/Bklyner)

Mark L. Smith, a spokesman for the Sisters of St. Joseph, issued a statement that read:

“Due to declining enrollment, changing demographics and increasing costs resulting in reductions in faculty and services, Bishop Kearney High School has reached a critical point requiring the Sisters of St. Joseph to make the difficult decision to close the school on August 31. The Sisters of St. Joseph along with the school administration are committed to work with every student and their families as they transition to schools with similar values to complete their high school education,” he wrote.

The shock was obvious for the hundreds of students still attending classes this morning. School administrators hustled students into the building, asking them not to talk to media. But some did.

“I was heartbroken because I’ve made a lot of friendships in this school,” a sophomore said. This is something that has been going around for so long. I think it was wrong, telling us at night.”

Children walk to Bishop Kearney High this morning. (Photo: Todd Maisel/Bklyner)

“I don’t even know how to react, everybody in our school [are]really good friends,” said another student.  “Everyone is really devastated. I’m a junior and I don’t know where I will be a senior.”

Her father, Jean Brutus of Canarsie said his family, many of his family Haitian immigrants, were equally shocked by the news.

“I couldn’t sleep last night and I don’t know what to do,” Brutus said after dropping his daughter off at the busy intersection of 60th Street and Bay Parkway. “She is one of the best students, so where are the schools?  I didn’t expect this and then boom.  We are all upset. God is great and I know that, we leave it up to God, we believe strongly. That’s what they teach.”

Young women head to class at Bishop Kearney High, passing a bus shelter on the way on Bay
Parkway. (Photo: Todd Maisel/Bklyner)

Jennifer Finch was the second generation of Kearney girls. Her mother also graduated from the school. She dropped off her daughter and three other fellow classmates at the school this morning. She said the girls were “crying in the car.”

“They are upcoming seniors – they are now juniors and it is a horror show,” Finch said as her daughter and the other girls exited the vehicle. “I would’ve liked it if they could’ve allowed them to finish it out. I drive four kids every day and two are upcoming seniors. They are devastated.  They have to make decisions very quickly – it was an institution and now it will be gone.”

Lou Cuvero of Bensonhurst dropped his sophomore daughter at the school and wondered where his younger daughter, an incoming freshman, would go now.

“It’s hard, my daughter is a sophomore and I had a freshman coming in so it’s a double whammy for us,” Cuvero said. “They want to go to Catholic school and I think it is better academics. I have no problem with co-ed, and they probably would’ve saved the school if went co-ed.”

Lou Curvero drove his daughter to class this morning. He wonders where she will attend next
semester. (Photo: Todd Maisel/Bklyner)

Cuvero said officials discussed making the school co-ed at a meeting the night before but decided against it. Xaverian High School, which was all boy’s institution established in 1957 in Bay Ridge, went co-ed in 2016 and instantly increased enrollment there, Cuvero said.

Although the enrollment might have spiked initially, the spokesman for the Sisters of St. Joseph, indicated the trends show that other co-education institutions in the region, continue to have fewer and fewer incoming students.

“We are making phone calls today, to St. Edmunds and Fontbonne to see if they have availability,” Cuvero said. “Both daughters have scholarships and we have to see if they can honor the scholarships. It’s a big hope.”

Young women head to classes at Bishop Kearney High School this morning. (Photo: Todd Maisel/Bklyner)

Alumni were also distressed by the announcement spelling the end for Bishop Kearney.

Lucretia Regina-Potter, an alumnus and a Brooklyn Republican Leader, said she was saddened by the news.

“I am very sad to hear of the impending closure of the Alma Mater of my daughter and I, Bishop Kearney High School,” Regina-Potter said. “Many good memories and many life-long friendships were made there. Bishop Kearney created a bond of Catholic sisterhood that can never be broken by its closure. The nuns and the lay faculty taught with their heart and soul and made sure that in addition to a good solid education, their “girls” grew into mature, strong and responsible women. Even though the school may be closing, the legacy of Bishop Kearney High School will always be alive in the hearts and minds of all the young women who attended and shall be passed on forever.”

Children walk to Bishop Kearney High this morning. (Photo: Todd Maisel/Bklyner)

Andrea Della Monica, a 1985 alumnus, said the school was “an opportunity for young women to learn in a single-sex education setting without worrying about how they were perceived by the other gender.  She was also the editor of the school newspaper, “The Trumpet.”

“You didn’t have to worry about dummying down in front of the boys,” Della Monica said. “I think I had some of my best teenage times there and they gave me the confidence to pursue a career in writing.  The lay faculty and the sisters made it possible to believe that back in the 80’s women could achieve anything and could pursue anything. Right now, we take that for granted. They were empowering to young women.”

“It’s sad but true that young women dim their light in front of boys,” she added. “Xaverian is now co-ed, but Kearney was a model for Catholic education and schools are now opening the door to both sexes because of changing demographics. But Kearney was more than a school, it was an identity. The school uniforms were emblematic of the era. It’s not just the death of a school, but a way of life to be imbued with charity and to be a good citizen.”

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Todd Maisel
Todd Maisel is an award-winning photographer with more than 35-years, specializing in breaking news. He currently serves as vice president of the New York Press Photographers. He was honored by the National Press Photographers Association and the Uniform Firefighters Association for saving the life of a firefighter he found in debris after the collapse of the World Trade Center, assisting in the rescue of an injured photographer, and for extensive coverage of the attack. Maisel is a graduate of NYU School of Journalism.
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