Trumbull’s Catholic schools bucking trend

Trumbull’s Catholic schools were not part of the downsizing plan announced last week. And it turns out there was a good reason for that.

“The decision to consolidate came after a lengthy planning process,” said Bridgeport Diocese spokesman Brian Wallace. “Both schools did extremely well. They are not part of the plan because their enrollment numbers and finances are much better off than the other schools’.”

Under the downsizing plan, St. Jude of Monroe and St. Joseph Elementary of Shelton (not to be confused with St. Joseph High School of Trumbull) will both close, while St. Lawrence of Shelton, the largest of the three and with the most expansion potential, will remain open.

The effect of the school closings on Trumbull’s two Catholic schools, St. Catherine of Siena on Shelton Road and St. Theresa on Rosemond Terrace, is expected to be minimal. With 260 students in pre-K through eighth grade and located about seven miles from St. Jude, St. Theresa could accommodate an uptick in enrollment if parents opted to send their children there instead of St. Lawrence, which is about two miles closer.

At 220 students, St. Catherine is the smaller of the two Trumbull schools and is located about six miles from St. Joseph. In addition to St. Lawrence, two other Catholic schools, Assumption in Ansonia and St. Mary-St. Michael in Derby, are within three miles of St. Joseph.

Wallace said there were many reasons why the Trumbull schools have maintained solid enrollment figures while other schools just a few miles away have struggled.

“We have 30 schools in the diocese, and many of them are doing quite well,” he said. “But we’re even working with the successful schools, like St. Catherine and St. Theresa, to help with their planning in finances and enrollment to make them even more successful.”

The general trend of Americans becoming less religious has likely contributed to decreased Catholic school enrollment, as has the financial stagnation of the middle class in the past decade.

At about $5,400 annually, tuition at Trumbull’s Catholic schools is a relative bargain, but still an extra expense when a student can attend a public school for free. Wallace said the diocese is committed to making Catholic education affordable.

“With even one child it is sacrificial,” he said. “But for a single mother or young couple, they struggle to pay even modest tuition.”

Bishop Frank Caggiano has instituted a scholarship fund that last year distributed $2.2 million to parents, Wallace said.

“It’s not necessarily poor parents, either,” he said. “Even middle class, if they have two or three children, need help.”

The help comes from a network of donors, many of them Catholic school graduates, who donate to the scholarship fund every year.

“We have seen tremendous generosity,” Wallace said. “A lot of people who are beyond the age of having kids in schools want to pass it on and give the next generation the same gifts they had.”