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St. Anthony Catholic School in Dayton closing after 108 years

It is the second racially diverse Catholic school in the diocese to recently announce closure, both citing repair costs that have since come into question.

Students from St. Anthony Catholic School in Dayton, Ohio, are seen at an after-school program. (YMCA of Greater Dayton)

For the second time since June, a racially diverse Catholic school in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati has announced its closure, this time being St. Anthony Catholic School in Dayton.

The historic K-8 school will cease operations at the end of the 2023-24 school year, according to a statement released on Tuesday that cited major structural issues.

“Over the past several years, the ceiling structure for the underground boiler room, independent of the 108-year-old school building, has deteriorated to the point of being structurally unsound,” it reads.

St. Anthony School has reached a point where maintenance, especially deferred maintenance, has become a serious concern,” said Fr Satish Joseph, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church, with which the school is affiliated.

The archdiocese reported that a building assessment contracted by the parish and school resulted in repair estimates of roughly $13M, including most of the school’s mechanical systems. Satish told BCM that elements of the building’s infrastructure should have been updated decades ago but were simply not addressed, leading to this week’s announcement.

“The decision was made in consultation with parish leaders,” he said.

“I am very immensely saddened by the closure of St. Anthony [School]. It breaks my heart.”

Located in Dayton’s Linden Heights, a mostly White neighborhood, the parish school had undergone a demographic shift in recent years. Ohio’s EdChoice voucher program is thought to have facilitated the transformation, allowing students from more diverse backgrounds to attend private schools of their families’ choosing.

As a result, St. Anthony’s minority enrollment has lately reached upwards of 45%, including a significant number of African American and multiracial students, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education. 

The news of the school’s closure has prompted an outcry from many in the local community, some of whom have organized under the banner of “Save St. Anthony” as they brainstorm ideas. Several organizers called out the optics of the school’s closure given the racial component.

“The archdiocese, one of the most wealthy entities in Ohio, only closes inner-city Catholic schools, which are not only the most diverse but serve the most vulnerable of populations,” said Pamela Mirre.

“If the archdiocese truly valued the mission being done in these schools, they could help tremendously with very little effect on their budget.”

St. Anthony Catholic School in Dayton, Ohio. (Crystal Spivey/Facebook)

Complicating matters is that St. Anthony is at least the second racially diverse school in the archdiocese to announce its closure in recent months due to structural issues. St. Joseph’s, a historic Black Catholic school in Cincinnati, was closed just before the 2023-24 school year, with administrators citing exorbitant repair costs that have since come into question.

In Dayton, one local architect expressed shock at the financial costs quoted for repairs at St. Anthony.

“I could not believe my eyes about the astronomical cost quoted to restore the structural integrity of the building to its former glory,” said Muthanna Akram.

“We all know engineers like to over-engineer; I think they like to over-charge too.”

Among other initiatives, supporters of the Save St. Anthony campaign are organizing a group to attend St. Anthony Church’s Sunday morning Mass at 9am ET to express their support for keeping the parochial school open.

St. Anthony currently employs 14 paid teachers and staff and has 156 students enrolled in kindergarten through eighth grade. The archdiocese has asked local Catholic schools to give priority acceptance to students who are currently attending there and will need a new option next year.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger.

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