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St. Anthony’s Closes Its Doors

May 17, 2017 Frontpage No Comments

By JAMES K. FITZPATRICK

My guess is that some readers of this column will know a great deal about St. Anthony’s High School in Jersey City, just across the Hudson River from Manhattan, while others will never have heard of the school. The determining factor is whether you are a basketball fan.
The school is a high school basketball powerhouse. Its coach since 1972 has been Bob Hurley, a now-retired New Jersey probation officer, arguably the most famous high school coach in the country. His teams, made up of players from throughout the New York metropolitan area, have won more than two dozen state championships.
Some 150 of his players have gone to college on athletic scholarships, including his son Bobby, the point guard on that great Duke team that included Grant Hill and Christian Laettner. Several went on to play in the NBA.
An upcoming Showtime series centering on Hurley and St. Anthony’s will soon be aired. All of this led New York Times reporter Joe Nocera to do a column on April 13 about Hurley and St. Anthony’s. What Nocera has to say will be of interest to Catholics concerned about the fate of Catholic schools, whether or not they are basketball fans.
Nocera: “Late Wednesday afternoon, a man named Bob Hurley announced the sad news that St. Anthony High School in Jersey City, N.J. — a school he had put on the map as its basketball coach — was going to close on June 30. Earlier that day, Hurley and other St. Anthony officials had a last-ditch meeting with the Archdiocese of Newark, knowing they had fallen short of the financial targets the archdiocese had set but hoping for a miracle nonetheless. Instead, the archdiocese told them it was over.”
From the sidewalk, St. Anthony’s looks like most of the urban high schools I knew as a high school basketball player: All Hallows in the Bronx, La Salle Academy in Manhattan, Bishop Loughlin in Brooklyn — narrow brick buildings, three or four stories high, squeezed into busy urban neighborhoods, with no “campus” to speak of, but scrubbed and well-maintained, with gleaming halls redolent of decades of applications of floor wax.
Nocera informs us that St. Anthony’s was “founded in 1952, as a parish school, staffed by an order of nuns that taught the children of its mostly white parishioners.” Things have changed: “85 percent of its students are now either African-American or Hispanic. On its website, St. Anthony characterizes its student body as ‘economically challenged.’ Its relationship with St. Anthony Parish ended in 1992, as did the subsidies that came with it. Its building needs repair. The nuns are long gone. Which is to say, costs have skyrocketed while revenue has shrunk.
“According to Jill Cypher, St. Anthony’s development director,” Nocera continues, “it costs $14,000 to educate a student, but the tuition is only $6,100. And the vast majority can’t even afford that. All told, St. Anthony needs to raise between $1.2 million and $1.5 million each year. It also owes between $1 million and $2 million to the archdiocese.”
Nocera understands the stakes: “On the one hand, you can’t watch the Showtime documentary without rooting for St. Anthony to stay open. On the other hand, even if it the archdiocese had agreed, the school would have started next year in the same $1 million-plus hole.
“Several years ago, Hurley and the trustees tried to raise an endowment for St. Anthony. They failed. Just a few weeks ago, Showtime helped them put on a basketball-themed fundraiser in New York City. That effort fell short as well. St. Anthony has never figured out another way to survive beyond asking donors for large sums of money. Nor has the archdiocese ever tried to help the school come up with a different approach.”
Nocera quotes Charles Zech, the director of the Villanova Center for Church Management and Business Ethics: “The parochial school model is a dinosaur. As neighborhoods have changed, as priests and nuns have dwindled, as charter schools have become competition, Catholic-school economics have long since stopped working. Catholic schools have to think outside the box if they are going to survive.”
One can only hope that, as a society, we will come to recognize how important it is that they do survive.
Nocera: “At St. Anthony, every graduate since the mid-1990s has been accepted into college. Many were the first in their family to attend college. It’s hard to think of anything more important than putting poor kids on the path to a better life. It’s something that Catholic schools do very well — at least those that are left.”
One would think a healthy society would recognize this and not let outdated notions about the separation of church and state permit schools like St. Anthony’s to just fade away. Europe and Canada have found a way to do that, by funding parental choice in education. You can bet parents within 50 miles of St. Anthony’s, with education vouchers at their disposal, would keep the school open.
On another topic: a scandal in my neighborhood. I live in Wallingford, Conn., within a short walk of the prestigious prep school Choate Rosemary Hall. It is where several of the Kennedys and Ivanka Trump went to high school. I like having the school as a neighbor. I attend many concerts and hockey games at the school. In mid-April, the school was on the front page of the local newspaper, the Record-Journal, for something in a category starkly different from sports and the arts.
The Record-Journal reports the local police have opened an investigation into claims of “sexual abuse of 24 students between the 1960s and into the 2010s.” Choate has “acknowledged the history of sexual abuse documented in the investigation” and “apologized profoundly.”
A graduate of the school responded by telling local reporters that she is “saddened that it took the school this long to address the situation not only to the school community but to the community of Wallingford.”
Wallingford police officials told reporters, “Essentially what we are looking at is a series of sexual assaults” of both young men and women by male teachers at the school.
As this investigation unfolds, we should keep in mind the sex scandals involving Catholic priests. I hope no one will misinterpret what I am about to say. Nothing that happened at Choate diminishes the guilt of the Catholic priests involved in the sexual abuse of minors.
But it does provide perspective. Choate is an institution that represents the American establishment, old money, the people who see themselves as the nation’s moral guardians, people quick to heap shame on the Catholic Church for its sex scandals.
Yet now we see the same sins that plagued the Catholic Church taking place within one of the liberal establishment’s most revered educational institutions, a boarding school wherein the nation’s elites seek to shape society’s moral and ethical core.
Which means it is dishonest to blame the Catholic Church’s scandals on its “puritanical and repressive understanding of sex,” on priestly celibacy, on an all-male priesthood, on the “exclusion of women” from positions of authority. None of those things was part of life at Choate.

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Readers are invited to submit comments and questions about this and other educational issues. The e-mail address for First Teachers is fitzpatrijames@sbcglobal.net, and the mailing address is P.O. Box 15, Wallingford, CT 06492.

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