Heartsick supporters of soon to close Catholic schools hit the streets

03/29/2018 5:58 AM |

Hundreds of people were dressed in green to celebrate their Irish heritage at the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Hampton Bays Saturday.

But one specific group, over 150 people strong, was decked out in green for a different reason: to bring attention to their desire to save Bishop McGann-Mercy High School from closing in June.

According to marcher Jack Lillywhite, the group was led by a student piper, followed by the football team, members of which carried a banner that read “Save Bishop McGann-Mercy.” A Mercy coach showed up with two students dressed as lions, representing the high school’s mascot, the Monarch.

The group of Mercy community members and supporters chanted as they walked in an effort to raise awareness about the importance of the Catholic high school, the only one on the East End.

“There were quite a few tears of happiness, support and sadness as we marched,” said Kerry Wilkie of Hampton Bays.

“Seeing how proud the students were to be a part of Mercy and how sad they are that there’s a humongous possibility it will be going away — it was a bittersweet day, actually,” continued Ms. Wilkie, whose two children attend the school.

A pair of Mercy families decided to also participate Saturday in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Jamesport, where children carried signs that read “Please Help Us” and “Save Mercy” as they marched down Route 25 to the Jamesport firehouse on Manor Lane.

Kate Nickles and Colleen Montgomery represented the effort to save the school at both parades Saturday.

They both have children who attend Our Lady of Mercy Regional School in Cutchogue. The Diocese of Rockville Centre will consolidate that school with St. Isidore School in Riverhead and rename it St. John Paul II Regional School. It will offer classes for students in nursery school through eighth grade.

“Everybody’s plans are up in the air; no one knows where they are going to go,” said Ms. Nickles of Jamesport.

Marching in the parades is just one of many ways the community has rallied together to try and convince the diocese to keep Mercy open next year.

Ms. Wilkie, the administrator of the Mercy High School Friends Facebook page — which had just under 2,000 members as of Tuesday afternoon — said a GoFundMe page was recently established in an effort to raise funds to keep the school open.

As of Tuesday afternoon it had raised about $11,700 of its $500,000 goal.

Ms. Wilkie said they’re also in the process of becoming a 501(c)(3) organization and accepting financial pledges from people who say they will donate a certain amount of money if the school opens in September.

“We did take the feedback from people saying they will donate large sums of money if the school stays open, but they’re not comfortable donating [to the GoFundMe] not quite knowing where the money is going or what it’s being used for,” she said.

Ms. Wilkie said that should their efforts fail and Mercy does close in June, the plan is for the money from the GoFundMe fund to help support Catholic education on Long Island and possibly to develop a scholarship fund for students who attended Mercy prior to its closure.

“I believe that Catholic schools in general have an aspect of religion, community and family that is very strong and tends to instill these values in them,” Ms. Montgomery said. “It creates a solid individual.”

More than 150 people in McGann-Mercy gear marched in Saturday’s St. Patrick’s Day parade in Hampton Bays. (Courtesy photo)

Volunteers are also urging parents, parishioners, alumni and students to write letters and send emails to Pope Francis, Bishop John Barres, diocese superintendent of schools Kathleen Walsh and numerous cardinals, Ms. Wilkie said.

“We have only just begun,” Mr. Lillywhite said.

Ms. Wilkie said the community has been working hard to try and save the school since learning of the impending closure earlier this month, but she said she wished parents had been notified earlier that there was a problem, giving them more time to work toward a solution.

Still, she said, she is pleased to see the outpouring of support not only from those in the Mercy community, but the public as a whole. Ms. Montgomery agreed.

“It seems like we have a very positive outpouring of the public,” she said. “It’s good to know that the community wants the school as well; it’s not just the people that attend there. The school does a lot for the community.”

Photo caption: Parents and students marched in the Jamesport St. Patrick’s parade Saturday to raise awareness about their efforts to save McGann-Mercy High School. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder) 

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