Wildwood Catholic High School, which was slated for closure at the end of the current school year, will remain open for the coming school year, as the local community there rallied to raise money and develop a new budget that addresses the financial concerns that prompted a January closure decision.
The sponsoring parish, Notre Dame de la Mer, originally sought Bishop Galante’s permission to close the school at the end of the current school year due to declining enrollment, resulting deficits, and the impact on the parish.
The school had suffered a long period of enrollment decline, falling from 336 students in 2004-2005 to 194 this year. The enrollment drop burdened the school with mounting debt and deficits that are expected to top $500,000 this year.
After a period of collaboration with the local school community, and with more than $300,000 already raised by the Save Wildwood Catholic Foundation, the priests at Notre Dame de la Mar parish informed Bishop Galante in a letter dated March 5 of their decision to keep Wildwood Catholic High School open based on a budget that they and the community developed.
Bishop Galante last Thursday informed the priests that he had accepted their decision, stating that he believes that they “have developed a viable plan that will allow the school to open for the new school year, while addressing the challenges facing secondary Catholic School education in this area of the diocese.”
“Given his own commitment to providing Catholic secondary education in Cape May County, Bishop Joseph Galante has been open to considering possible solutions to the challenges facing Wildwood Catholic High School. He also has been greatly heartened by the support and immediacy with which the community responded to the needs of the high school, which indicates the value that they, too, have placed on maintaining Catholic secondary education in Cape May County,” the diocese said in a statement last week. “Bishop Galante extends his prayerful thanks for the effort that all have made on behalf of students and families in this area of the diocese.”
In a letter distributed to Wildwood Catholic faculty, parents and students last Friday, Fathers Michael Field, Joseph Wallace and Gustavo Agudelo, said, “It’s hard to believe that just two months ago we came to you with heavy hearts to relay the sad message that the decision was made to close our beloved high school. From that very moment you rose as one against formidable odds to raise the funds needed to open the doors in September. Through this crucible of testing we have all learned many lessons about faith, perseverance, compromise, trust and of course hard work! It is so much more gratifying to us as your Pastoral Team to be bearers of good news! We are happy to announce that the decision to close has been reversed and our doors hopefully will never close.”
The plan obtains economies of scale by bringing Wildwood Catholic High School together with Cape Trinity Catholic School, which is being formed from the school communities of St. Ann, Wildwood, Our Lady Star of the Sea, Cape May and the former St. Raymonds, Villas. The school campus also will house the Notre Dame de la Mer Catholic Community Center.
The plan also calls for the high school to strengthen its school board and subcommittees, as well as institutional advancement efforts to “ensure a viable, academically excelling and financially stable school for many years to come.”
The Board nominated and Bishop Galante subsequently appointed Father Joseph Wallace president of Wildwood Catholic High School. Father Wallace will collaborate with the other Pastoral Team members and the Wildwood Catholic High School Board to help reshape and revitalize the school.
The priests said more information about the plans for the new school year would be forthcoming in the days and weeks ahead. In the meantime, they said, they hoped that the effort of the last two months would not wane, but would grow even stronger.
“In the midst of our jubilation, as we celebrate new life for our beloved high school, we cannot forget the gathering storm that brought us to the precipice of closure. We must continue to keep the flame ignited. The flame that inspired in only two months the gathering of over $300,000.00 and promises to bring in the remaining $200,000.00 by summer’s end. We thank Save Wildwood Catholic and all others who rallied the troops, organized, solicited, collected and kept the flames burning brightly. Now we all need to rally together to ensure a sizable enrollment and the establishment of an endowment that will see us safely into the future.”
“In the meantime, we thank you for your patience and understanding, your financial generosity and most importantly, your great love and tremendous support of Wildwood Catholic High School, Cape Trinity Regional and Catholic education in general. It is our great hope and prayer that the enthusiasm we feel today and the wonderful, collaborative spirit demonstrated in recent weeks will grow steadily into an even stronger Catholic school presence in Cape May County for many years to come,” they said.