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Archives St. Mary’s School, Ticonderoga, to close

March 29, 2023

By Darcy Fargo

Facing a declining population in the area and a corresponding declining enrollment, St. Mary’s School in Ticonderoga will close at the end of the school year.

“It’s certainly sad and disappointing,” said Father Christopher J. Looby, pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Ticonderoga and Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Schroon Lake. “I don’t think it’s unexpected, though. I think a lot of people have seen it coming.”

The school, like schools around the North Country, is facing declining enrollment.

“We finished last year with 71 students,” Father Looby said. “This year, we have 61. Losing 10 each year has been the trend.”

“Overall, the population in the North Country is declining. Specifically, the number of school-aged children in public school districts in communities where we have schools are declining,” added diocesan Superintendent of Schools Sister Ellen Rose Coughlin, a Sister of St. Joseph. This decline i n the school-age population has an effect on the enrollment in our schools.

Father Looby said the decision to close the school was made only after consultation with school and parish councils and an extensive amount of prayer by all involved, including the school’s Education Council, and the parish Financial Council and Pastoral Council.

“There were people who told me, ‘I wish I had a million dollars to give you to keep the school open for years,’” Father Looby said. “It really wasn’t about money. We could have been a school with millions of dollars in endowments and with no trouble recruiting and paying top salaries to teachers, but without students, it’s not a school.”

St. Mary’s school opened in 1959.

“As was typical of those times, it opened with grades one through four,” said Sister Ellen Rose. “Each year thereafter, they added a grade. It continued in that manner until the school included grade eight. The first eighth-grade graduation was in 1963.” The school hit its peak enrollment of 321 students the next year. Within eight years, the school had 220 students. Enrollment numbers continued to decline from there.

Despite shrinking enrollment, the school has been a significant part of the Ticonderoga community.

“In 2014, there was a significant fire at the school,” said Sister Ellen Rose. “The fire was on a Friday night. I remember being there Saturday morning. When I arrived, around 10 o’clock, there was no question as to whether or not they would rebuild. There was never any question. The school received tremendous local support. It wasn’t just the parish or the school community, it was the community at large. It wasn’t just the parochial school; it was recognized as part of the community and as important to them.”

The school is a place full of joy and the love of Christ, said both the pastor and the superintendent.

“There’s a lot of life and joy in there,” said Father Looby. “It’s been a blessing to have a ministry like this for so many years.”

“There’s something about walking into that school,” said Sister Ellen Rose. “It’s not just the crucifix on the wall or the statues of Mary. The school just speaks the Catholic faith. There’s a true commitment to providing a very fine academic education that is very much integrated by a Catholic worldview.”

Father Looby said he hopes the building continues to contain that life and faith moving forward.

“There’s a significant need for daycare here in Ticonderoga,” he said. “I’ve been approached by different entities that would like to start a daycare program here in the school. I feel like that would honor the legacy of what the school stands for – it was built to serve the needs of parents and families.”

The school will also be used by the parish as a parish center.

“We’ll have parish events and our Christian Formation programs there,” Father Looby said. “When a school closes and the parish loses that way of connecting with children, the parish has to pick that up in a very strong way. We’re hoping to build up our Christian Formation program for both youth and adults. We want that building to continue to be a source of community building. This is certainly like a death in the family for us. But out of death, we believe there is new life, and I truly believe new life will come out of this. It’s going to take time, work, patience and prayer, but I truly believe we can build something beautiful there.”

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