For the first time since 1911, students will not be returning to The Ascension School in the fall. After 112 years, the Catholic elementary and middle school — located at 220 West 108th Street — officially shut its doors on Friday, June 16.
In a shocking move that left parents scrambling to find alternative learning facilities for their children, the Archdiocese of New York announced the closure back in February, coupled with the shuttering of eleven other Catholic schools throughout Manhattan and the Bronx (including the Holy Family School, whose alumni list includes Jennifer Lopez). “It is never a good day when we announce closures to any of our beloved schools, but the goal is always to strengthen the remaining institutions and preserve Catholic education in New York for decades to come,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, stated in a press release at the time.
Despite generations of devoted families attending schools including Ascension, shifting demographics which resulted in decreased enrollment ultimately led to the demise. In fact, back in February, Our Town reported that Catholic schools had seen a 17 percent drop in enrollment since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. A source suggested the Archdiocese was forced to underwrite the struggling schools, resulting in a yearly bill of $28 million.
This isn’t the first time in recent years that the Catholic school system has been called into question due to financial concerns. Back in 2013, 24 Catholic schools in the tri-state area closed after failing to prove they could survive without Archdiocese bailouts. Last-minute fundraisers fell flat, and students were dispersed to other institutions.
Today’s young learners will meet a similar fate, as Michael J. Deegan, Superintendent of Schools for the Archdiocese of New York, explained, “I personally mourn the loss of every one of our great schools. However, as we process this news, we must resolve that the great tradition of Catholic education in New York will continue, and we will assist all students who are seeking to carry on their Catholic education to find a seat at another excellent school in the Archdiocese.”
Jacquelyn Alvarez, principal of Ascension, assured The Spirit that former students will be “moving on to great things because they are amazing children.”