Responding to continuing declines in enrollment and increased financial challenges, Our Lady Queen of Peace and Our Lady of Mount Carmel schools in Middle River will reconfigure in September in a move pastors say will strengthen Catholic education in eastern Baltimore County.
The Queen of Peace campus will become the new home for both schools’ pre-kindergarten and full-time childcare, while Mount Carmel will serve K-8 students.
The reconfiguration grew out of discussions between Monsignor Robert Hartnett, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and Father Jason Worley, pastor of Our Lady of Queen of Peace. It was announced to parents during parish meetings Jan. 22 and Jan. 23.
There are approximately 420 students at Mount Carmel and 200 at Queen of Peace. While both schools have experienced declines in enrollment, Queen of Peace has suffered a greater loss which has put significant financial pressure on the school, said Father Worley.
Mount Carmel’s enrollment has increased in the last two years, but it is down from 480 several years ago, according to Monsignor Hartnett.
“Either we wait until the very last hour and react or we become proactive at this point and work with a parish that we’ve already been collaborating with,” said Father Worley, noting that the two parishes already sponsor joint functions and the pastoral councils cooperate with each other.
The priest said the Middle River area is expecting an influx of 3,000 new family units in the coming years. That will mean there will be a need for Catholic early childhood education and daycare for young parents, Father Worley said.
Since Mount Carmel was in need of younger students and Queen of Peace lacked older students, the reconfiguration made practical sense to address the needs of the community, he said.
Monsignor Hartnett said the Mount Carmel facility offers space not available at Queen of Peace – including a gymnasium and dance studio shared by Our Lady of Mount Carmel High School.
Both pastors were concerned about the stability of Queen of Peace. Because of deficits, the school froze teacher salaries last year. The parish has been heavily subsidizing the school, which has faced significant deficits in the last two years.
“If the numbers would increase significantly in the area around Queen of Peace, perhaps at some point we would reconfigure again,” said Monsignor Hartnett. “We wanted to have some flexibility. This was the best way of doing it without closing Queen of Peace.”
Dr. Ronald J. Valenti, superintendent of Catholic schools, said the archdiocese supports the decision of the pastors.
“The presence of Catholic education will remain strong, but the delivery system will change,” he said. “The two pastors took a very deliberative approach. If you just continue along the same course, then you put the parish in jeopardy. This is exercising good stewardship.”
While Father Worley said many parents greeted the news with “sadness,” he said many others met with him directly and supported the decision.
Denise Novak and Donna Ashman, were among those parents at Queen of Peace, who voiced surprise and displeasure with the reconfiguration and its impact on Queen of Peace students.
“I was up all night crying,” said Ms. Novak. “I have poured so much of my heart and soul into that school. Everyone is in shock.”
The new school will be known as Our Lady of Mount Carmel/Our Lady Queen of Peace School.