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The Suburbanite
  • St. Joseph closing prompts vigil

  • A building light in St. Joseph Catholic School's parking lot glinted off the clear beads of a rosary as Hail Marys were punctuated by “Amazing Grace” early Wednesday evening.
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  • A building light in St. Joseph Catholic School's parking lot glinted off the clear beads of a rosary as Hail Marys were punctuated by "Amazing Grace" early Wednesday evening.
    Chris Harbison stood in gym shorts and a Central Crusaders sweatshirt with more than 60 people reciting the prayer in protest of St. Joseph's impending closure. He graduated two years ago and has no siblings at the school, but said the St. Joseph community became a second family.
    "Teachers here are amazing," he said.
    His mother agreed, "They know each and every parent," she said.
    Latana Harbison, a Baptist, said she enrolled her son in the public school system after relocating from Pennsylvania, but was attracted to the academic and personalized experience offered by the Catholic school. Her son attended seventh and eighth grade at the St. Joseph campus at 126 Columbus Ave. NW.
    Harbison's experience — and that of the school's 97 current students — will not be an option after next year, as Holy Cross Academy announced plans Tuesday to close the school.
    At the start of the 2014 school year, the St. Joseph campus will close and the campuses of St. Peter at 706 Cleveland Ave. NW and St. Louis in Louisville will become Family Preschool Centers.
    The move will affect about 270 students and 27 teachers, who either will be transitioned to the remaining campuses or laid off.
    Monsignor Lewis Gaetano, Holy Cross president and pastor of Christ the Servant parish, said it's part of the academy's "Transitioning for Growth" initiative to strengthen Catholic identity, create an improved learning environment and ensure financial stability. The initiative is the result of five years' research and consultation to address Stark County's shrinking and aging population, as well as a growing number of families with fewer children.
    In a prepared statement, Gaetano said: "There is no perfect plan that will please all of us. But there is tremendous opportunity ahead of us. We know that transitioning children from one campus to another is a disruption, but Holy Cross Academy will be there every step of the way to guide our families through this transition. But this transition is for the students."
    The students and parents who attended a quickly-organized candelight vigil at the school Wednesday felt differently.
    "A lot of the students that go to this school, this is their only stability," said Melissa Falkner, vice president of the Home and School Association.
    After Tuesday's announcement, Falkner rallied school supporters through social media and bought 50 candles that were being rationed at 6 p.m. Wednesday. A petition circulated at the vigil drew 65 signatures.
    Like many other parents in attendance, Falkner said the decision to close St. Joseph came as a surprise. Her children — one in kindergarten and the other in fourth grade — use vouchers, so Falkner said cost is not the issue for her that it may be for others, but proximity is.
    Page 2 of 2 - "The biggest thing for me is, I don't want to move them," she said.
    While the family atmosphere received the first mention, parents and parishioners were quick to point out the loss of an inner-city Catholic school. Cynthia Gardener, whose family attends the church and school, said she was concerned about the capacity of other Holy Cross Academy schools and transportation for students who will have to travel a little farther.
    "The other schools are not in the city," she said.
    Gaetano said Tuesday that the remaining schools still are connected to the city population.
    Holy Cross Academy was created in 2012 to consolidate Stark County's 11 parochial schools under a single system and include St. Joan of Arc in Perry Township. St. Michael's in Plain Township. Regina Coeli/St. Joseph in Alliance. St. Mary and St. Barbara in Massillon. Sts. Philip & James in Canal Fulton, St. Paul in North Canton, and Our Lady of Peace School at 1001 39th St. NW.
    Reach Kelly at 330-580-8323 or kelly.byer@cantonrep.com
    On Twitter: @kbyerREP