St. Mary's Catholic School to close it's doors

St. Mary’s Catholic School, a 113-year-old institution, will shutter after incurring heavy financial losses.

St. Mary’s Catholic School will close effective May 29, the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City announced Thursday.

The 113-year-old institution serves 135 Pre-k through eighth grade students and is a part of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Lawton.

In a press release, the Archdiocese said it will be working alongside local school administrators to help teachers and families transition.

“We are thankful for the efforts of teachers, principals, priests, parents and benefactors who have worked diligently over the past two years to respond to recommendations made as part of a viability study and attempted to secure a financial future for the school,” Superintendent Diane Floyd said in a press release. “Unfortunately, the school continued to struggle. The COVID-19 pandemic made the situation more difficult.”

The viability study was commissioned in 2017 in response to a falling enrollment rate and other financial challenges faced by the school. The study looked at “historical student enrollment data, actual tuition being collected compared to the true cost per student, and the financial resources available and needed to maintain a quality school program.”

After the conclusion of the study, the church pastor, the Rev. Brian Buettner, called a series of town hall meetings in May of 2018 to share the study’s results. Based on the recommendations presented in the study, the school made some immediate changes to try and correct its deficit.

“We hired a development director to assist the school with marketing, fundraising, and strengthening the relationship between the school and the communities we serve. We concluded a successful rebranding project to simplify our logo and motto, completely redesigned our website and social media channels, instituted new school uniforms, reestablished the St. Mary’s Alumni Association, and enjoyed many other successes,” the Rev. Buettner said in an email to teachers, staff and parents Thursday.

But it wasn’t enough. To cover the costs of keeping the school open it was forced to draw from an investment fund set up by the Catholic Foundation of Oklahoma. Unfortunately, these funds were limited — and the school continued to operate at a loss.

Then came the COVID-19 pandemic.

In one week, the school’s investment accounts emptied to near nothing, well below the line of no return, the Rev. Buettner. After a meeting between the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and the Blessed Sacrament Finance Council, a decision was made to close the school at the end of the 2019-2020 school year.

“I have poured my heart and soul into St. Mary’s Catholic School,” the Rev. Buettner said in his email. “I will miss having lunch with our students in the cafeteria, teaching classes about their faith, and praying with them at our school Masses. As heartbroken as I am for the loss of the last Catholic school in Southwestern Oklahoma, I am grateful for wonderful memories and the blessing St. Mary’s has been for our entire community.”

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