ShareThis Page

Closing of Bethel Park's St. Katharine Drexel Catholic School continues diocese trend

| Tuesday, May 7, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
St. Katharine Drexel Catholic School in Bethel Park, seen here Monday, May 6, 2013, is scheduled to close at the end of the school year.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
St. Katharine Drexel Catholic School in Bethel Park, seen here Monday, May 6, 2013, is scheduled to close at the end of the school year.

The Rev. John Hissrich loves eating lunch four days a week in the cafeteria with children at St. Katharine Drexel Catholic School in Bethel Park and teaching religion to the older students one day a week.

That's why it was so hard for the pastor of Nativity Parish in South Park to tell members at Mass on Sunday that the school will close this spring.

“I kind of looked at it as the kind of reaction I might get at a funeral home after the death of a loved one,” he said.

The closing of St. Katharine Drexel continues a trend in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, where 58 elementary schools closed between 1994-95 and 2011-12.

Diocesan officials could not be reached for comment, but have blamed the closings on a decline in the number of school-aged children.

The diocese formed St. Katharine Drexel five years ago by merging St. Germaine School in Bethel Park and Nativity School in South Park. But the merger didn't stem a slide in enrollment. St. Katharine Drexel had 135 students in grades K-8 in 2009-10 and has 73 now. The dicocese has said it expected 61 students next year.

Peggy Rabb, 45, of Bethel Park suspected that the school would close. She has two children there — Meg in kindergarten and Jacob in second grade. Jacob started kindergarten in a class of four children. His second-grade class has just three students.

“We're looking at other schools,” she said.

From 1994-95 to 2011-12, Catholic school enrollment in the region dropped from about 30,000 to 23,000, and the diocese has responded by closing, merging and moving schools to reflect changing demographics and population shifts. Cardinal Donald Wuerl North Catholic High School, a $72 million project, is scheduled to open next year in rapidly growing Cranberry.

Nationally, Catholic education reached its zenith in the early 1960s when enrollment topped more than 5.2 million students in nearly 13,000 schools, according to the National Catholic Education Association. Catholic enrollment declined to about 2.5 million students in 8,719 schools by 1990.

Casey Yochum, 40, of Baldwin has a son, Aiden, 7, in second grade at St. Katharine Drexel and a daughter, Addison, 3, in preschool. She doesn't know where the children will go to school in the fall. She hoped St. Katharine Drexel would survive.

“We had been trying to get more students in,” she said. “We just didn't have the interest.”

Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.