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After SMDA closes Catholic education will fall to the parishes

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In the wake of Thursday’s announcement that St. Marguerite D’Youville Academy is closing at the end of the school year, Roman Catholic Diocese of Ogdensburg officials are working to ensure the area’s youth still have access to solid religious instruction.

The Rev. F. James Shurtleff, pastor of Notre Dame Church and one of the directors of the school, said the decision to close SMDA was hard to make.

The school is run jointly by the Notre Dame Church and St. Mary’s Cathedral parishes.

“It’s very hard for us to close it,” he said. “We’ve been working on this for a year or more. It’s not a sudden decision.”

Rev. Mr. Shurtleff said declining enrollment and an increasingly precarious financial situation made the decision inevitable.

This year the school has roughly 60 students in junior kindergarten through sixth grade.

Rev. Shurtleff said, “Our strong emphasis now will be on Christian formation,” adding that parish-based youth ministry will be a crucial focus.

Rev. Mr. Shurtleff said they haven’t worked out the details yet, but the consensus is that in the absence of a Catholic school in Ogdensburg, the Church will need to pull together to ensure children are still receiving appropriate religious instruction.

“We won’t be able to have the school, but we can strengthen our religious education program for our young people,” he said.

There are three Catholic schools left in the county: St. Mary’s School in Canton, St. James School in Gouverneur and Trinity Catholic School in Massena.

Ogdensburg City School Superintendent Timothy M. Vernsey said he is aware of the pending closure of SMDA and that his administration is looking at the possible impact it will have on enrollment in the city’s public schools.

“The impact will be dependent on if parents choose to send their students to public school or continue in the private school setting,” Mr. Vernsey said, noting that some parents may opt to send their children to one of the other Catholic schools in the county.

“We will know that as we move into the spring,” he said.

But even if all 60 students from SMDA were to join the Ogdensburg City School District, Mr. Vernsey said, “I don’t think it will have a tremendous impact on our enrollment. It certainly won’t present anything that we can’t handle.”

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