Archbishop Robert J. Carlson has accepted the recommendation of the pastor of St. James Parish to close its school at the end of the 2018-19 school year.
Father Rajpaul Sundararaj made the recommendation after consultation with parish committees. A statement from the archdiocese noted that it is saddened by the need to close the school and that the pastor “worked vigorously with parish leaders to keep both the parish and school financially viable.”
Father Sundararaj wrote in a letter to parishioners, school families and others that enrollment has not increased the last two years. St. James opened the school year with 75 students and now has 73 students in kindergarten through eighth grades.
Father Sundararaj noted in the parish bulletin that the recommendation to close the K-8 school program came after years and months of discussions, deliberations, information-sharing, prayer and discernment. He also cited financial considerations, with a $300,000 donation in February 2017 to be used for the school nearly depleted. Funding was not the main issue, however, he stated, pointing to enrollment, which steadily declined especially from the mid-1990s.
St. James School, in the Dogtown neighborhood of south St. Louis, opened under the direction of the Dominican Sisters of Sparkill, N.Y., in 1902.
In 2017, the Archdiocesan School Oversight Committee recommended the creation of a new corporate model school at the site of St. Joan of Arc Parish in south St. Louis that combined St. Joan of Arc, Our Lady of Sorrows and St. James parishes. Under the model, the archdiocese partners with parishes and schools.
Later, it was announced that after the anonymous donation was made to keep St. James School open, a memorandum of understanding was entered into by St. James Parish and the archdiocese, allowing the school to operate as a parish-based school. The 2016-17 school year at St. James started with 102 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, with more than 50 percent of students living outside the school boundaries. The enrollment decreased 30 percent in the five years prior to that time.
In announcing the decision to close St. James, Father Sundararaj said the parish has a vibrant future, with funds freed up to prepare “not merely for longevity but missionary vibrancy.”