By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Catholic Schools Week, celebrated in schools throughout the Diocese of Brooklyn during the last week in January, marked a major turning point in the life of one educational institution in Bay Ridge.
Saint Patrick Catholic School, a 150-year-old school operating under the guidance of St. Patrick Church, is making the transition from a parish-centered school to an independent Catholic academy run by a board of directors.
The changeover will officially take place this coming September, Principal Andrea D’Emic said. The school will still be a Catholic educational institution and the Diocese of Brooklyn will still oversee the school, but a new power structure will be in place to make decisions on such things as finance and building maintenance.
“It’s a question of governance,” said D’Emic, who has been principal of St. Patrick School for nine years and who will remain in her post after the changeover.
The school, located at 401 97th St., will be renamed St. Patrick Catholic Academy.
Converting parish-based schools into Catholic academies is a growing trend in the Diocese of Brooklyn, according o officials. Of the diocese’s 91 schools, 25 have already made the transition. Among them is Holy Angels Academy, the former Our Lady of Angels School at 337 74th St. in Bay Ridge, which became an academy in 2009.
“It is my pleasure to announce that 25 of those 91 schools and academies have already transitioned into the academy model, which is so vital to the health and sustainability of the school communities within Brooklyn and Queens. Moreover, our board mentors have been hired within the Diocese of Brooklyn for additional assistance to the boards of directors,” Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio wrote in a recent edition of The Tablet, the diocese newspaper.
There are 30,000 students enrolled in Catholic schools in the diocese, which covers both Brooklyn and Queens.
Many of the schools, struggling for survival, are turning to the academy model in an effort to raise funds.
D’Emic said that while St. Patrick is not struggling for survival, the changeover is welcome. “It’s important to get people with financial expertise in here; people who are experienced in grant writing, for instance,” she said.
The board of directors has already been selected for St. Patrick Catholic Academy. The chairman is Joseph Langley, a retired businessman who does volunteer work at the school. The other members are John Heffernan, Peg Horan, Bill Stottmann, Mary Beth LaMond, Debbie Davis, and Kathleen Olsen.
The board of directors will answer to a panel called a board of members, composed of the Rev. Msgr. Joseph Nagle, pastor of St. Patrick Church, pastors of surrounding Catholic churches, and a bishop from the diocese. The board of members will have the final say on all decisions.
“It’s the future of Catholic education,” D’Emic said. “Bishop DiMarzio has said that all of the schools in the diocese will eventually become academies,” she said.
“We have a wonderful board and we’re very excited. I would say that transition is the right word to use. There will be no changes as far as I go and as far as the faculty goes. I will be here and the faculty will be here,” she said.
St. Patrick will continue its effort to keep tuition affordable, according to D’Emic. Tuition is $4,300 a year.
St. Patrick marked Catholic Schools Week (Jan. 28-Feb. 1) like most schools in the diocese did – with a series of events aimed at showing the school off as a nurturing place where students can achieve academic success while receiving religious values.
St. Patrick held a science fair, where children’s projects were on display, a pajama day, in which kids could wear pajamas to school, and a teacher appreciation day, in which the faculty was treated to lunch.
The week began with a mass at St. Patrick Church.
The science fair, which took place on Jan. 29, featured a wide variety of projects. Christian Buonanno, a fourth grader, experimented with electrical conductors, including salt water, an orange, and magnets. Fifth grader John Eladem built a model of the human heart out of plastic and then attached tubes to it to simulate the flow of blood.
Patrick Finn, a sixth grader, did a study of 26 Facebook users in an attempt to find out if the social networking site eases loneliness or makes one lonelier. “My conclusion is that face to face contact is still the best way to make friends,” he said.
Fourth grade student Valerie Rosanelli sought to determine which beverages, aside from orange juice, contain the most Vitamin C.
This year is a big one for St. Patrick School for another reason. The school is marking its 150th anniversary. St. Patrick School was founded in 1863 by Father John Tanze, who was the pastor of the church at the time. The church was 15 years old at the time. It had been founded in 1848.
“Fr. Tanze knew that there were many Irish immigrants who had come to Brooklyn to work on construction projects at the Fort Hamilton Army Base. He thought their children should have a place to go to school,” D’Emic said. The base is located in Bay Ridge.
The school was originally located in a two-story building on the corner of Fourth Avenue and 95th Street. The current school building was constructed in 1958.