Diocese decides to close Trinity Catholic School in St. Martinville _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BRAD BOWIE -- Trinity Catholic Elementary School, as seen Monday, March 9, 2015, in St. Martinville.

The Diocese of Lafayette announced Friday it will close Trinity Catholic School in St. Martinville because of the school’s low enrollment and concerns about its long-term financial stability.

“With deepest regret and after prayerful reflection, Bishop (Michael) Jarrell will allow the school to close at the end of the 2014-2015 academic year,” Monsignor Richard Greene, a spokesman for the diocese, said in a news release announcing the decision. “The long-term viability of the school is simply not demonstrable at this time in measurable and compelling ways.”

Diocesan officials set a registration goal of 170 students for the 2015-16 school year by Wednesday in order to keep the doors open, but as of the deadline, only 127 students had registered for classes in August.

The diocese was prepared to offer a long-term, interest-free loan to the school and emergency cuts to the budget were planned as ways to keep the school open, but not enough students registered for classes, Greene said.

Earlier this month, diocesan officials cited declining enrollment and an estimated $250,000 shortfall as factors contributing to the potential, and now eventual, closure of the school.

This school year, 172 students are enrolled in the school, which has served the St. Martinville community since 1881 and is the only Catholic school option in St. Martinville.

The Rev. Rusty Richard, pastor of St. Martin de Tours Parish and of Trinity Catholic School, said earlier this month the school’s budget is about $1 million. He said low enrollment, an economic downturn and rising costs of health insurance and other benefits for teachers and staff have contributed to the expected shortfall in the 2015-16 school year.

“The status of Trinity Catholic School in St. Martinville has been an ongoing concern for the last several years,” Green said. “Plummeting early enrollment for 2015-2016 created an emergency situation. Bishop Michael Jarrell urged in the strongest way that every effort and avenue be explored to keep the school open for the 2015-2016 academic year.”

Those efforts involved the potential for a loan from the diocese as well as the budget cuts.

Greene said pastors and principals of neighboring schools have agreed to give special consideration to Trinity families. Many parents already had taken steps to register their children at other Catholic primary schools in New Iberia, Breaux Bridge and Lafayette.

Efforts also will be made by the diocese’s Office of Catholic Schools to find placement for faculty and staff affected by the school’s closure, Greene said.

“Trinity Catholic School will forever hold a sacred place in the hearts of all who have benefited by its rich tradition of excellence in Catholic learning and faith formation,” he said. “Through the intercession of St. Katherine Drexel, we ask the Lord’s compassion, mercy and blessings upon all impacted by this decision.”

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.