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Closure of SMDA makes Ogdensburg Catholics consider alternatives for religious education

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

Parents of children enrolled in the school were informed of the closure in a letter sent home on Thursday.

The school at 315 Gates St., operated jointly by the Notre Dame Church and St. Mary’s Cathedral parishes, enrolls about 55 students in junior kindergarten through sixth grade.

The school has operated in Ogdensburg since 1974, when Bishop Controy Memorial School and Notre Dame School merged. It was formerly called Ogdensburg Catholic Central School.

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.

“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.

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

Rev. 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 wont be able to have the school, but we can strengthen our religious education program for our young people,” he said.

In the letter sent home, signed by Rev. Mr. Shurtleff and The Rev. Joseph A. Morgan, rector at St. Mary’s Cathedral, parents were told, “With so few taking advantage of the opportunities offered by SMDA, [the joint councils] recommended that we close SMDA and find another way to engage our families in faith formation and encourage their practice of the faith.”

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

He said 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 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 wont present anything that we can’t handle.”

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