Fight to save one of the last Catholic elementary schools in Waterbury

New Haven

   Many Waterbury parents were outraged when they heard the recent news that a school that’s been part of Waterbury’s Catholic community for more than 90 years will close in June.

   “I feel like it’s a smack in the face,” said Stacey McClymont, who has three children who attend Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Elementary School. “It’s almost like you’re disappointed, hurt — so many emotions running, angry.”

   Parents are also upset because they tell News8 they’re not sure who actually made the decision to shut down a Waterbury institution for many families.

   “If we go to the Archdiocese (of Hartford) they say it’s the priest,” Stacey said. “If we go to the priest, they say the Archdiocese.”

   “They keep blaming each other,” said Waterbury City Alderman George Noujaim. He has a child at the school and another one who was planning to transfer there next year. Noujaim, himself, went to the school when he was growing up — all reasons why he has joined the fight to try to save Saints Peter and Paul.

   News8 caught up with him just as he was preparing to drive to a meeting with the Archdiocese of Hartford. 

   “I want some answers,” he said.

Related: Waterbury Catholic school to shut down this year

   Noujaim left for that meeting with more than just hopeful dialogue. He also went armed with pledges from people promising to make donations to help save the school. In four days, Noujaim said he raised more than $100,000 in pledges to try to keep the school open.

   “It feels good at least going up there with a six-figure amount that’s being pledged and hopefully they can understand where we’re coming from as parents and as past alumni and our love for our school and they would keep it open,” Noujaim said.

   At the end of the day, Noujaim says his meeting last over two hours.

   “They talked about a lot of the past attempts to try and save the school, but for future viability it’s going to be difficult to continue and the school will close down in June,” Noujaim said.

   In recent weeks, parents were told by the local parish that declining enrollment and changing demographics in Waterbury have led to financial difficulties and a lack of school resources. Parents were also told there were concerns about being able to pay for rising salaries and school technology. The leader of the Mary, Mother of the Church Parish sent a letter home to parents explaining all of that and expressing his sadness about the closure. Rev. John Lavorgna also said it wasn’t fair to students to keep operating this way. 

   Before the meeting, Noujaim had expressed optimism.

   “It feels good going up there with a six-figure amount that’s being pledged and hopefully they can understand where we’re coming from as parents and as past alumni and our love for our school and they would keep it open,” Noujaim said.

   But, after the meeting, he took on a different tone.

   “Basically, it’s just come to a conclusion for future viability that it’s going to be difficult to continue and they will close it down (in June),” Noujaim said. “It’s also hard to rescind a decision.”

   But, Noujaim was, at least, able to get answers as to how the process of closing the more than 90 year-old school began. Many parents were confused as to whether it was Father Lavorgna’s decision or the Archdiocese of Hartford’s.

   “The priest (Rev. Lavorga) said it wasn’t feasible,” Noujaim said. “He took it to the Trustees, they agreed, then went to the Archdiocese to start the process.”

   Once the school closes in June, that will leave only two remaining Catholic elementary schools in Waterbury — Catholic Academy of Waterbury and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel School. A new middle school will open inside Sacred Heart Catholic High School. There was an open house about that last night.

   In the letter to parents, Reverend Lavorgna said this about the future of Catholic education in Waterbury:

   “It is my fervent hope that our students will continue their Catholic school education,” Rev. Lavorgna wrote. “Though our students will no longer receive their Catholic school education at SSPP, it is a comfort to know they will be formed in faith and knowledge at one of our other exemplary Catholic schools.”

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