Life after Mercy: How students are moving on after school’s closing

Disbelief and shock spread throughout the Bishop McGann-Mercy community in March when the news hit that the Riverhead Catholic high school was set to close at year’s end.

For the Class of 2018, they suddenly became the final group of seniors that would ever celebrate graduation. For the younger students, they faced an unexpected reality: They had to find a new school at which they would continue their education. For some, that meant attending their local public school; others chose to continue their Catholic education at schools in West Islip and Huntington. We caught up with several former Mercy students to see how the transition has gone. These are their stories.

Chris Atkinson
Grade: Senior
School: Riverhead High School

Chris Atkinson, 17, is a senior at Riverhead High School. Previously, he was an athlete at Mercy High School. (Courtesy photo)

Chris Atkinson of Riverhead, 17, faced an abrupt transition for his senior year of high school.

He had attended a Catholic school his entire life before enrolling at Riverhead High School.

“It’s definitely a lot different, because you’re used to having a lot of close friends,” he said. “I had a lot of friends since kindergarten that went to Mercy, and now most of them went to St. John [the Baptist Diocesan High School]. That was the hardest change.”

When he found out in March that Bishop McGann-Mercy High School was closing, he was in shock and worried about where he would go next.

“I didn’t think it was true. I didn’t think it was really happening,” Chris said. “I remember waking up the next day and I was like, ‘Wow, this is actually happening.’ ”

The commute was the biggest factor in deciding where he would finish high school. He also has a younger brother who’s now a sophomore, and it would have been a huge commitment for his family to coordinate the two boys’ schedules.

“I miss a lot of the teachers. Since the classes were a lot smaller, you had a special relationship with the teachers,” Chris said. “There was a little joking around since we knew them.”

At Mercy, he played on both the basketball and baseball teams, and he misses his coaches.

“I shared memories from freshman year up until now and I’m not able to spend the last year with them,” he said.

He also played football as a freshman and sophomore. At Riverhead, he will play baseball in the spring but opted not to play basketball. After Mercy closed, there were no offseason workouts to attend, so when it came time to try out for basketball, he didn’t feel prepared.

“I went from not even 500 students to almost 2,000 kids, so there’s a big difference there, like in the class sizes,” Chris said.

A plus side to transferring, he said, is that he’s now taking more college-level classes that, unlike AP classes, don’t require an exam to receive college credits before graduating.

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