Bishop McGann-Mercy High School senior Sarah Dern arrived home from school earlier than usual Monday, because after-school activities were canceled. There, the phone rang almost immediately with a message from the school to check for an important email.
The message linked to a video in which the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre announced that the school will close at the end of the school year. The video also said local Catholic elementary schools — Our Lady of Mercy in Cutchogue and St. Isidore in Riverhead — will consolidate under the name John Paul II Regional School at the St. Isidore building.
On Tuesday, students, parents and alumni, all surprised by the news, shared their thoughts and reactions.
“Everyone’s just so heartbroken,” said Sarah, who lives in Mastic-Shirley. “It’s unbelievable.”
Her class will be the last to graduate from the school, where she said there’s a feeling of being a part of a big family.
“Now that we have to go in knowing that it’s the last three months of McGann-Mercy history, we have to make every day count, make the best memories with each other and the teachers, especially,” she said.
Graduation for the seniors this year will be like a graduation for the whole school, she said.
Fellow senior and friend Julianne Frie, of Moriches, said news of the closing “just broke us all down.” She and graduating classmates are shocked to know they won’t be able visit the school after they leave, she said.
“I’m fortunate enough to get to graduate this year,” she said. “I feel for the underclassmen.”
One mother spoke of the difficult decision she faces about where to send her son next school year. He is currently a junior, with only has one year left until graduation.
“Specifically, as it relates to the juniors, we mourn the loss of the ‘senior experience,’ the last year with friends before they move on to various colleges, the varsity senior seasons, etc.,” said Kathryn Scott of Wading River. “We worry about what this means for college planning, senior class schedules and one hundred other things, some big and some small.”
Dina Vigorito of Shinnecock Hills said her son David, a freshman, is worried he won’t do well in a new school. He chose McGann-Mercy over other schools because he found the teachers there to be enthusiastic, she said.
“I know my son will be fine,” Ms. Vigorito said. “I think I felt even more upset for the wonderful teachers and staff that made my son and family so welcome into the Mercy family. They are great people and I hope they are all able to find new positions by September. My prayers are with them.”
Some parents lamented there no longer being a Catholic secondary school on the East End, and cited their faith as one of the reasons they enrolled their children at McGann-Mercy, a school that dates back six decades in Riverhead.
James Ryan of Aquebogue, who has a son graduating this year and another in junior high, said it was important in his family to send his children to a Catholic school. He asked for prayers for the children’s families and for staff affected by the loss of the school.
“Our faith is being squeezed out of the community and the public square,” Mr. Ryan said.
This high school recently celebrated the success of its girls basketball team, which won its first county championship since 2004 behind seniors Melina Santacroce and Caryn Nabrizny. Little did they know at the time that it would be the last ever.
Jane Sherman of Wading River, the mother of eighth-, ninth- and tenth-graders at Mercy said she “feels betrayed” that the diocese is closing East End schools and seeming to focus more on those in Nassau County.
Ms. Sherman was also bothered by the way the administration delivered the news of the closure.
Around 1 p.m. Monday, she received a robocall from the school saying all after-school activities were canceled and students should be picked up promptly at the end of the school day. Confused, Ms. Sherman assumed it might be due to a change in the forecast for Tuesday’s storm, but around 4 p.m. that same day a second robocall revealed the real reason.
The call told parents there was an email from the bishop that they should read — an email announcing that the high school would shut down permanently in June.
“The way we heard about it was really what made me the most angry,” Ms. Sherman said. “I feel betrayed and angry. I felt sad and sucker-punched at first, but now I feel betrayed and angry.”
She said parents weren’t expecting such news, especially given ongoing renovations at the building.
Donna Stumbo of Rocky Point said fundraisers have been held throughout the school year to raise money for a bus the school can use for athletic games. One was held as recently as Sunday, she said.
She also said she’s already paid to register her 15-year-old daughter for next year’s classes.
“The fact they did they this and didn’t tell anyone this was coming until that day — and having a fundraiser the day before — nothing about this makes any sense,” Ms. Stumbo said.
She wasn’t upset only about the closing of Mercy, but also about the consolidation of elementary schools, saying the diocese is eliminating Catholic education across the East End. The diocese, however, cited declining enrollment as the key reason behind its decision.
The consolidation news hit hard for former St. Isidore student Patricia Goodwin.
“It’s kind of disappointing,” she said, adding that she was upset the diocese is changing the name to the John Paul II Regional School. “It’s part of Riverhead, part of our childhood years … I wish they would kept the same name and could incorporate the name still instead of changing it. It’s heartbreaking they’re going to change the name of it too.”
Although the news has brought a lot of heartbreak, disappointment and confusion, some believe the school will continue to live on through the lessons it instilled in its students.
“Mercy is a second home for many faculty, students and families. It is a place where I had the experiences and the amazing teachers that shaped me into the woman I am today,” said Jackie Spinella, a 2014 graduate. “People from school would always say that the ‘Mercy Spirit’ would live on forever, and I fully believe that’s true!”