Citing low enrollment, revenue insufficient to cover operating expenses, an increasing deficit and “severe challenges brought on by the pandemic shutdown and consequent economic crisis,” Father Matthew Fish, the administrator of Holy Family Parish in Hillcrest Heights, Maryland, announced on May 13 that Holy Family Catholic School will close at the end of the current school year.

“After prayer, discussion, and consultation with the Schools Office and the leadership of the Archdiocese of Washington, and careful consideration of our current school situation and the new challenges presented by the recent shutdown and economic crisis and their effects on our parish finances, I have made the decision to close Holy Family Catholic School, at the conclusion of the 2019-2020 academic year,” Father Fish wrote in a letter to school parents, teachers and parishioners.

In his letter, Father Fish noted that for several years Holy Family School sought ways to overcome decreasing enrollment and increasing budget deficits. In 2018, an anonymous “Angel Donor” surprised the school with a $200,000 donation and the school embarked on what Father Fish said was “the tremendous fundraising efforts of that year to save our school.”

“This year we found ourselves back where we had started, not having sufficient revenue to cover our operating costs,” Father Fish wrote. He noted that at the start of this school year, “we realized that the projected tuition income was calculated incorrectly, leaving the school with a greater projected deficit than planned. Through several budget cuts, faculty, and program adjustments, we were able to address the financial hardship with still a few unknowns: raising over $80,000 in fundraising and increasing enrollment to a viable number.”

The priest pointed out that the Archdiocese of Washington sought to support the struggling school with governance oversight, “many professional hours to ensure our school leadership and teachers had the resources needed to support our students and families” and “a substantial loan to cover payroll and supported much-needed upgrades to the school facility.”

“At this point, we will end this fiscal year with a projected deficit of over $130,000,” Father Fish wrote in his letter to the Holy Family community. “In previous years the parish had exhausted its savings in order to cover the school’s deficit. This is no longer possible; moreover, the parish is facing serious financial challenges of its own.”

Holy Family Parish was established at Hillcrest Heights in 1952 by then-Washington Archbishop Patrick O’Boyle. Holy Family School opened in 1957 with 200 students and was staffed by the Sisters of St. Joseph.

Archbishop Wilton Gregory, in a letter to Father Fish, recognized “the hard work and commitment of the school and parish communities ... to increase enrollment and raise funds” and noted how “the parish generously supported the school for many years, and the archdiocese has provided significant tuition assistance up to and including awards to families of more than $625,000 over the last five years.”

Citing both “the insufficient enrollment and the costs to continue to maintain the 63-year-old school building,” Archbishop Gregory granted permission for the school to close “with the clear understanding and intention that the students of Holy Family Parish School will be encouraged and assisted in every way possible to attend another available Catholic school next year.”

Father Fish, in his letter, noted that the Archdiocese of Washington’s Catholic Schools Office worked with the school community “to meet fundraising goals for this fiscal year and increase enrollment for the 2020-2021 school year.” He also noted that school principal Michelle Taylor and others “embarked on a plan to secure re-registration of families, bring in new families, and prioritize fundraising for the remainder of the year.”

Taylor, Father Fish and the Catholic Schools Office looked at “various school models that might be better suited for the school community other than a traditional preK-8th grade model,” Father Fish wrote, and “worked diligently to organize budgets and school models based on current enrollments of our families and new registrations to our community. No new models proved viable or realistic for our school and its environment.”

Father Fish, recognizing that the closure “may come as a shock to some of you,” wrote to the school and parish community that the current COVID-19 pandemic heightened the challenge of addressing the school's low enrollment and financial problems.

“This crisis has critically affected our ability to count on an increase in revenue and contributions for our school for the future,” he wrote. “In addition, our own parish revenue has declined 40 percent in the last two months; and projections about how long the effects of this pandemic may last have made clear that the parish cannot take on any more financial risk than it already has.”

In a letter to archdiocesan pastors and school leaders announcing the closure of Holy Family School, William Ryan, the Archdiocese of Washington's secretary for Catholic schools, said the Catholic Schools Office is reaching out “to support children, parents, and staff. “

“Although teachers and staff continue to work remotely, counselors will be available to support teachers,” Ryan said. “We will work with school leadership to support families in finding a new, suitable school placement for the 2020-2021 school year... In addition, the Office of Human Resources (HR) and Catholic School Office staff will assist those staff members with HR questions and those wishing to seek employment in another Catholic school.”

Father Fish said that counselors and Catholic Schools Office officials will be available to support faculty and students as they cope with the closing of the school. In addition a webinar will be hosted for Holy Family School parents on May 14 to learn about nearby Catholic schools and how to enroll and register their children in those schools.

“This has been a very difficult decision to make. I am very conscious of the great sacrifices so many have made to keep our school open in recent years, coming from a sincere desire to offer the best of Catholic education for our children,” Father Fish wrote. “With profound gratitude, I want to thank to all of the teachers and administrators, staff, parents and guardians, and donors for their tireless work and generous devotion to our students. You are the heart of this school community, and I know how disappointing this news is to you... I ask you to join me in prayer for our school community and for the continued gift of Catholic education.”