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November 19, 2020

Bishop McDevitt, Hallahan Catholic high schools to close, Philly archdiocese says

Decision prompts 'great sadness,' Archbishop Nelson Pérez says

Education Schools
archdiocese philadelphia school closings.jpg Thom Carroll/For PhillyVoice

John W. Hallahan Catholic Girls’ High School in Philly and Bishop McDevitt High School in Montgomery County are currently operating at 36% and 40% enrollment capacity. Above, the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Center City.

John W. Hallahan Catholic Girls' High School and Bishop McDevitt High School will close at the end of the academic year due to declining student enrollment and rapidly increasing financial deficits, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced Wednesday. 

An extensive acceleration of tuition increases would have been necessary to cover school operating costs, preventing the schools from offering affordable and high-quality educations without taking on significant financial losses, the archdiocese said

Hallahan, in Philadelphia, is operating at 36% of its enrollment capacity. Bishop McDevitt, in Cheltenham, Montgomery County, is at 40% capacity. Those numbers were expected to decline.

The decision to close the schools followed a sustainability study conducted by the archdiocese and Faith in the Future, the foundation responsible for operating archdiocesan high schools in Southeastern Pennsylvania. They study examined each of the archdiocese's 17 high schools.

The study considered enrollment totals, student retention rates, regional demographic trends, capacity figures and financial solvency.

The results were presented to the archdiocese’s senior leadership, prompting Archbishop Nelson Pérez to accept the recommendation that both schools close. 

Hallahan, which opened in 1911, was the first diocesan all-girls high school in the United States. Every summer, the students mark the end of the school year by jumping into the fountain at nearby Logan Square. 

Bishop McDevitt was founded in 1958. 

Pérez released a statement acknowledging the closures are "deeply painful."

"Today is one of great sadness," Pérez said. "Catholic education is a precious gift that bears lifelong fruit to all those who receive it. The closure of any Catholic school is deeply painful, most especially for the students, teachers, faculty, staff, alumni and supporters so intimately connected to them. I know that today’s announcement will weigh heavily on every member of the Hallahan and McDevitt school communities. I share in that grief. Understanding that this moment is one of extreme difficulty, I pledge that we will provide every possible assistance during this transition and that the rich legacy of these schools will be upheld.

"I have an obligation to ensure that each of our students is being provided with the best educational experience possible and that their teachers and coaches are provided with the resources to fulfill that mission. Given circumstances, those resources were depleting rapidly and could not be restored. My prayers are with all of you and my heartfelt gratitude goes out to our school families for choosing the gift of Catholic education as well as the faculty, administrators, and staff working each day to provide it."

The decision was not directly caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the archdiocese said the uncertainty created by the public health crisis accelerated the move. 

Requests for tuition assistance across the school system are up 46% year over year, according to the archdiocese. Many families who had never received financial aid are now receiving support.

This increase has resulted in a significant strain on available financial aid resources, especially in schools that are heavily dependent upon tuition assistance.

The remainder of the school year will continue as normal at both schools. The archdiocese said it will work to ensure that students can smoothly transition to other Catholic high schools.

All schools within reasonable proximity of Hallahan and McDevitt will be able to accommodate additional students beginning next school year while still providing a high-quality Catholic education, the archdiocese said.

The archdiocese also said that it will do its best to transition teachers, staff and administrators at both schools to other institutions.

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