An era is coming to an end.
St. Finbar School held its final graduation ceremony last week as tears flew freely and alumni reminisced about the school’s 39-year history. The school is closing for financial reasons.
The mood was bittersweet in the school building, located at 1925 Bath Avenue in Bensonhurst, in the days leading up to the ceremony.
“It’s like a rollercoaster some days. We have highs and lows and we have extremely low days,” explained Principal Rose Katsoulis.
A particularly difficult day was when the school held a graduation ceremony for youngsters in pre-K.
“When the pre-K teacher who has been doing it for over 15 years thanked everyone she worked with, she started crying,” Katsoulis recalled.
Several of St. Finbar’s dedicated teachers, as well as students and their parents, have found the closure difficult to take.
“They’re very devastated,” Katsoulis said.
For graduating eighth-graders, “They think it’s kind of cool that they’re the last [graduating class] but they look at the seventh-graders and feel bad for them,” said Colleen Amaro a math teacher who has been at St. Finbar for eight years.
The students in St. Finbar’s pre-K to seventh-grade classes will transfer to other Catholic or public schools in September.
St. Finbar now joins the dozens of Catholic schools that have closed in the last several years due to a lack of sufficient funding as a result of declining enrollment.
The Diocese of Brooklyn planned to close St. Finbar School in June 2005 but parents, students and educators rallied in support of the school. St. Finbar was ultimately allowed to stay open for another five years after crafting a business plan outlining how it would financially support itself without the assistance of the diocese.
“The happy moment had to be when the pastor that was here in 2005, Father Joseph Holcomb, called to tell me that our business plan was accepted and we were going to be allowed to remain open. When I told [teachers and students], you could hear the roar from the upper floor just take the roof off the ceiling of the building,” Katsoulis said with a laugh.
Although the Bensonhurst community is sad to see the school go, its closure means funding can be redirected to the parish’s church, thereby allowing the church to remain open.
“The decline in students also represents a decline in the number of families in the parish,” Katsoulis explained. “The parish is financially in the red.”
The parish will receive money by renting the school building out to the state, which will expand an educational program for autistic children and create a universal pre-K program.
“This is a most needed move to keep the church doors open,” Katsoulis said.