By Marnie McAllister, Record Assistant Editor
The 91-year-old Holy Family School, 3926 Poplar Level Road, announced to its families Feb. 21 plans to close at the end of this school year.
“It’s a wonderful, wonderful Catholic school, but we don’t have the enrollment to sustain us,” said the principal, Dr. Beverly McAuliffe, during a phone interview Monday, Feb. 24.
The school’s 129 students in kindergarten through eighth-grade are encouraged to attend St. Stephen Martyr School, located about two miles away. Holy Family and St. Stephen Martyr churches are clustered and share a pastor, Father Harry Gelthaus.
At St. Stephen Martyr, “we have plenty of room, so that won’t be a problem at all,” said Father Gelthaus during a phone interview Feb. 24. “If we have to open more classrooms, we’ll hire more teachers. We won’t turn anyone away.”
St. Stephen Martyr, located at Pindell Avenue and Hess Lane near Audubon Park, currently has 244 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
Father Gelthaus announced plans to close Holy Family in a letter to parents dated Feb. 21. On Monday, he visited classes and spoke to students about the closure.
“I wanted them to know I was praying for them and I was there for them,” he said.
He noted that Holy Family is “really a wonderful school. It’s really heartbreaking. It’s difficult on the parents. But there really wasn’t any choice.”
In the letter, Father Gelthaus cited declining enrollment and the cost of running a school as reasons for closing.
“I had hoped that we could reverse the negative trends of finances and enrollment that have been present for some time,” he wrote. “Enrollment, however, has declined every year despite strong efforts by our school community to invite new families.
“Parish subsidies have increased to the point that we are no longer able to meet our Holy Family parish obligations,” he wrote. “While the quality of the education remains very good, I fear that a continued decline in enrollment will hurt the educational process as well.”
A press release from the Chancery further explained that the school will accrue a $200,000 loss by the end of this school year.
Father Gelthaus said the future of the school had been a concern for several years, before he became pastor of Holy Family in 2012.
“I think most of the people knew that it was coming. I don’t think it was a surprise to anyone, but when it does happen, it’s really painful,” he said.
Leisa Schulz, superintendant of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of Louisville, said Holy Family began working to increase enrollment through marketing and finding new sources of financial assistance for families under the parish’s previous pastor and principal.
“They were looking into all the right things to do,” she said.
Two of the grades at Holy Family have dropped below 10 students, Schulz noted.
“It’s really difficult with that enrollment to be financially viable,” she said. “In order to make the cuts to be viable, I really believe that would have impacted their ability to offer an excellent Catholic elementary school program.
“But when you have a school like Holy Family, with the wonderful contributions and legacy that school has provided in its graduates here in the Louisville community and beyond, we all mourn that,” she added. “And I think we all look forward to making sure the families and students who want to continue in Catholic education have every opportunity to do so.”
Schulz said arrangements will be made to help families look into other Catholic school options. And she noted, that as members of a parish without a school, Holy Family families would likely be given the parishioner tuition rate at their new school.
Schulz said the archdiocese also will work with Holy Family faculty and staff who wish to continue working in Catholic schools.
Holy Family employs nine full-time classroom teachers, four part-time educators, a secretary and cafeteria staff, she said.
Holy Family’s preschool, which operates at capacity and is self-sustaining, will not be affected by the closure.