Our Lady of Grace school closing its doors

Published 12:10 am Saturday, July 9, 2016

Pre-k, kindergarten programs end; Parish reviewing future use of school grounds 

RESERVE — The parish school at Our Lady of Grace will not operate in any form this coming school year after only eight students signed up to attend classes in 2016-17.

Archdiocese of New Orleans spokeswoman Sarah Comiskey McDonald said the principal has been in touch with the impacted families and is working directly with them to enroll at another school for the upcoming academic year.

This month’s closure news is the latest step in a fall from grace for the Catholic school that operated on Louisiana 44 in Reserve and served St. John the Baptist Parish for more than 80 years.

Our Lady of Grace started the 2014-15 school year with 179 students, and that proved too few for a school that serves students in prekindergarten through eighth grades.

It was in October of 2014 that the Archdiocese downsized the school to focus on prekindergarten and kindergarten in 2015-16.

Principal Precious Joseph said the school operated successfully in 2015-16, serving more than 40 students but could not continue into the next academic year with such a small student contingent.

“The enrollment has been going down for more than 20 years,” Joseph said. “Many of our parishioners were taking their children and having them attend a variety of other schools. That just kind of lessened our enrollment over time.

“(The Archdiocese) did allow us to keep kindergarten with the intention of growing it back, but it just did not occur this year.”

Joseph said the school-closing news is especially disappointing to her because she is Catholic, a member of the Our Lady of Grace congregation and her children attended the school. In addition, she has been principal for almost four years.

According to Joseph, six staff members worked at the school in 2015-16. She said the fiscal year ends this month and she is in the process of closing down services and contracts with those vendors who service the school.

Father Christopher Amadi, who came to Our Lady of Grace in 2011, said the school-closing decision was not a surprise because of the longtime enrollment issues.

However, Amadi said the decline at the school is not reflective of a decline of the church parish.

“Closing for Our Lady of Grace, as a church, has never been mentioned,” he said. “There is no connection between the parish closing and the school. The experience of the school, itself, is separate from the parish. The parish, by the grace of God, is doing well. The parish is spiritually growing.

“I have not seen any reason to doubt the parish’s survival. I have not seen any reason to have fear for the parish’s survival, compared to any other parish in the Archdiocese or the vicinity.”

Amadi said the parish must come together to decide how to use the school property and gym. He said demolition is not being considered, adding a committee was formed Sunday to address the issue and offer suggestions.

“We’re going to be paying taxes for this property,” Amadi said. “Now, we’re going to come together, led by this group as a think tank, to see what are we going to use this property for, how we can we use it to generate funds to pay the taxes and work to use it for the entire community, not just the church.”

He hopes to have some suggestions in six months.