Mercy students on class trip to Italy visit the Vatican to help save school

04/12/2018 10:45 AM |

Bishop McGann-Mercy High School students have gone right to the top in their efforts to save their school, which the Diocese of Rockville Centre will close at the end of the year. During a trip to Italy last week, they took their case to the Vatican.

Last Tuesday, junior and seniors held up a sign in front of the Vatican with a plea to Pope Francis to save the Riverhead school.

“It’s the pope. We’re a Catholic school,” junior Molly Howard said. “If we had any chance to talk to him we would have taken it, but we didn’t. So the best we can do is just show that we were there, our school is still kicking and we wanted to get his attention, somehow.”

She said she still refuses to accept that the school is set to close.

While these efforts are ongoing, the diocese said its decision is final.

“We appreciate the love and dedication the Bishop McGann-Mercy community has for the school, but nothing has changed regarding the school’s long-term financial condition or the underlying factors that led to the decision to close it,” Sean Dolan, director of communications for the Diocese of Rockville Centre, said in an email Tuesday.

The diocese is currently addressing how money gathered through community fundraisers for the school will be handled and will update the community on its “frequently asked questions” page at eastendcatholicschools.org. After the diocese’s announcement, parents said fundraisers had been held throughout the school year to raise money for a bus the school could use for athletic games.

“None of those funds, or any other money donated to McGann-Mercy High School, has been or will be used in connection with the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program designed for survivors of abuse,” Mr. Dolan said. “The decision to close Bishop McGann-Mercy High School had nothing to do with the IRCP. The truth is that Bishop McGann-Mercy High School became unsustainable due to severely declining enrollment and over-dependence on heavy subsidies from the diocese.”

Diocese entities provided subsides of $16.3 million to the school from 2007 through the 2016-17 school year and were expected to provide an additional $2.3 million to support the current school year, Mr. Dolan said. The school expects 91 students to graduate in June and had only 55 students enrolled for this September’s incoming freshman class.

Visiting the Vatican with a request for help from the pope wasn’t the main goal of the recent trip, which included 24 students, but they took the opportunity, junior Gina Fazio said.

“We thought, hey, what better to bring it to the Vatican on the school trip since we were going there originally,” she said.

Classmate Alyssa Pavuk said a picture of students with the sign was posted on Facebook and she hopes it makes the rounds until someone important sees it.

“We all felt really proud of ourselves and powerful because a little group of kids from Long Island traveled over nine hours on a plane to the Vatican in Rome to hold up a sign that could change the entire future of our school,” Alyssa said. “It was a life-changing, powerful moment.”

Students said some passersby took photos or asked, in Italian, what the sign meant.

The three girls said that while they hope efforts to keep their high school from closing are effective, they will switch to St. John the Baptist for their senior year if the school does close in June.

Some Mercy students visited St. John’s for an open house recently, Alyssa said, and there’s comfort in knowing other classmates will be there.

“We’re a family and we love each other and this is not going to be easy, but we know that we’re going to make it because as long as we have each other, we’ll be OK.”

Photo caption: Bishop McGann-Mercy High School juniors and seniors on a trip to Italy paid a visit to the Vatican last Tuesday with a message for Pope Francis: They asked for his help in saving their school, which is set to close at the end of the school year. (Courtesy photo)

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