The closing of St. Joseph Central High School is obviously a blow to the local Catholic community, but the closing of a school that has long been part of the city's fabric is a blow to Pittsfield as well.
Enrollment at the school, whose city roots go back to 1897, has declined to 68. The last parochial school in the city and the last Catholic high school in the Berkshires will close its doors at the end of the academic year in June (Eagle, October 14).
Local Catholics may be angry with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, which has closed city churches and sold or tried to sell church buildings in recent years, but St. Joseph's fate is part of a nationwide trend. According to the National Catholic Educational Association, more than 1,500 Catholic schools have closed or consolidated in the last decade, and student enrollment declined by almost 20 percent in that period. Elementary schools have been hit particularly hard, and the three Pre-K through eighth grade Berkshire parochial schools will no longer have a county high school to send students to.
The causes are many. Catholic schools tend to be in urban areas, which have experienced population losses. While public schools receive local, state and federal funding, parochial schools must place the burden of escalating educational costs on parents. An increasing percentage of Catholic parents are sending their children to public schools, both charter and traditional.
Over the decades, parents sent their children to St. Joseph's for the education, for the Crusaders' athletic teams, and for the tight-knit community they found there. While not a public school, St. Joseph has been a part of what defines Pittsfield, and it will be sorely missed.