Bishop McGann-Mercy High School may have found its Hail Mary pass.
During a Friday meeting with two parents, Bishop John Barres said he was open to the idea of a future Catholic school, independent of the diocese, opening at the Riverhead location. Bob Terry, a McGann-Mercy alumnus and longtime donor to the school, said no timeline was established during the meeting.
Mr. Terry, who also sent his three children to the school, said it doesn’t seem feasible that the school would open by September.
“We want people to responsibly plan for next year,” he said. “I think they have to. We don’t want to have people misled.”
Mr. Terry and parent Shawn Leonard were able to meet with Bishop Barres through the help of Father Edward Sheridan, an Interim Episcopal Vicar for the diocese.
“I don’t think he wanted to be in this position, but I don’t think they could afford to support the school anymore,” Mr. Terry said of Bishop Barres. “I do believe after meeting him that it was a hard decision for him.”
“There has been no change in the decision by the Diocese of Rockville Centre to close Bishop McGann Mercy Diocesan High School at the end of the current school year,” said Sean Dolan, director of communications for the diocese. “In addition, the property is not for sale at this time. For more information visit eastendcatholicschools.org.”
Mr. Terry said it’s very early in the planning and discussion process.
The partnership between Mercy and the Diocese of Rockville Centre began in 2002 and the school was officially renamed Bishop McGann-Mercy High School in 2003.
Mr. Terry also said that there is no truth to rumors that nearby Peconic Bay Medical Center will purchase the school, adding that the bishop said the property has not been sold and is not for sale at the moment.
The Save Bishop McGann-Mercy High School Foundation, a newly formed 501c3 organization, has initiated a pledge drive aimed at funding an independent Catholic high school. Parent Kerry Wilkie posted on the Mercy High School Friends Facebook page Tuesday that, to date, pledges promising to commit funds later amount to $130,000. Those pledges will be void if an independent school does not form.
“It’s a very big undertaking to try and do something like this,” Mr. Terry said. “It will take a lot of time and money and some talented people … The bishop was very open to listening to our discussions. That was really nice to hear.”
According to another post by Ms. Wilkie, a meeting will be held Sunday, April 29, at 7 p.m. at John Wesley Village in Riverhead. The focus will be fundraising, urging people to make alternate plans for this fall and answering questions from the community.
The diocese announced in March that it planned to close Mercy at the end of this school year due to decreasing enrollment and rising costs.
It also announced it would consolidate its East End elementary schools, Our Lady of Mercy in Cutchogue and St. Isidore in Riverhead. All students will attend school at the St. Isidore building, and the school will be renamed John Paul II Regional School. A website for the new combined elementary school was just created.
Since the news, parents, students and alumni of the only East End Catholic high school have joined forces to try and save the school from impending closure. Among other efforts, they started a GoFundMe campaign, walked in two St. Patrick’s Day parades and visited the Vatican, where they displayed a sign asking Pope Francis to save Mercy.
Mr. Terry, who served on Mercy’s school advisory board, said board members and people in the community feel it’s important to have a Catholic high school on the East End. He added that Bishop Barres agreed, and understood that it is a “really difficult time for everybody.”
“We really feel we need our own Catholic high school out here on the East End, but we don’t know yet if it’s sustainable,” Mr. Terry said. “We’re just in the early stages of starting to study that … If we do this, it’s gotta be something that lasts for a long time. It wouldn’t be fair to put people through the same thing all over again.”
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)