TAUNTON — St. Mary’s Primary School, a fixture in the Taunton community for the past 110 years, is closing its doors at the end of the school year in the face of declining enrollment.
“The decision to close St. Mary’s, although extraordinarily difficult, we believe will result in a stronger Catholic school educational program for all of the elementary school students in Taunton,” Diocese of Fall River Superintendent of Schools Steve Perla said in a news release. The school has 133 students, less than half its enrollment a decade ago, officials said.
St. Mary’s families are being encouraged to enroll their children at Our Lady of Lourdes School in Taunton, which also serves grades pre-K through five. The new combined school will not offer fifth grade, which will be moved to Coyle and Cassidy High School and Middle School.
Just after the March announcement of the closing, St. Mary’s Principal Michael O’Brien said it was an emotional day at the school as the news began to sink in for staff and families.
But O’Brien, who coached the Coyle and Cassidy girls basketball team to a state championship earlier this year, said he is optimistic that the two schools will be stronger together.
“We always say endings lead to new beginnings,” O’Brien said.
According to the news release, Taunton Catholic schools have experienced a significant decline in enrollment in the past five years.
“Also, serious building issues at St. Mary’s Primary School have necessitated that these immediate short-term steps be taken to ensure a viable and sustainable future,” the release said.
O’Brien said St. Mary’s building, which is located on Washington Street and dates to 1908, has boiler, roof and plumbing issues.
In contrast, Our Lady of Lourdes, located on First Street, is a much newer building in better condition, O’Brien said. Unlike St. Mary’s, it has a separate cafeteria and gymnasium, is a two-story building instead of four-story and has a handicapped accessible lift, he said.
“The building doesn’t make the school. We’ll move our great students in with their great students and our great teachers in with their great teachers,” O’Brien said.
Coyle and Cassidy President Mary Pat Tranter, who will be leaving her post to become director of strategic initiatives in the superintendent of school’s office for the diocese on July 1, said earlier this month that dropping enrollment is a nationwide trend among Catholic schools.
St. Mary’s has nine teachers and 21 total staff members. Our Lady of Lourdes is about the same size, according to the school’s website.
O’Brien said St. Mary's means a lot to a lot of people.
One mother of a first-grader told him her son is the fourth generation in their family to attend St. Mary’s. And there are teachers who have worked at the large brick schoolhouse for 30 years.
Children playing in the schoolyard across from St. Mary’s Church are a familiar sight for anyone who drives down Route 138 near the center of town.
“We have a tradition of kindness and smiling faces here. People say ‘I walk in the door and feel like I’m home.’ We make a point of greeting everyone. We consider it a family,” O’Brien said.
And come June that family will have a giant reunion, with students past and present and staff past and present.
“We’ll have a big party at the end of the year. It will be a lot of fun and a chance to go down memory lane,” O’Brien said.
And remember a school that has meant so much to so many.