BY THE VILLAGE SUN | Families hoping for a miracle that Our Lady of Pompeii School in Greenwich Village will reopen are sadly not having their prayers answered.
Earlier this summer, the New York Archdiocese announced that the 90-year-old Bleecker St. institution was on a list of 20 parochial schools set to be shuttered due to financial issues and the coronavirus pandemic.
On Aug. 21, local politicians wrote to John Cahill and Joseph Rosenberg, the archdiocese’s chancellor and the executive director of the Catholic Community Relations Council, respectively, asking them to reconsider closing the Village pre-K-to-8 school.
The politicians noted that O.L.P. School parents, in particular, “have raised a great deal of money” in hopes of keeping the school open.
The pols also asked the archdiocese to provide them with a list of all properties, including vacant churches and lots, that the Church does not plan to use in the foreseeable future — and to pledge not to sell these spaces to private entities.
Instead, the elected officials said these idle indoor and outdoor spaces should be dedicated for use by New York City public schools now, when the Department of Education is in need of extra space due to the COVID health crisis.
“As you know,” the politicians wrote, “New York City public schools plan to offer blended learning — a hybrid of in-person and remote virtual learning — for public school students this fall. The NYC Department of Education (DOE) and School Construction Authority (SCA) are in need of outdoor and indoor spaces to serve as classroom/instructional spaces, early childhood education spaces, after-school centers and spaces for recreational activities in order to help ensure safety and proper social distancing for children, teachers and staff.
“With the list of vacant properties, we can all work together to help address education challenges for as many children as possible during this pandemic.”
Co-signing the letter were Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Congressmember Jerrold Nadler, State Senator Brad Hoylman, Assemblymember Deborah Glick, Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Councilmembers Margaret Chin and Carlina Rivera.
The politicians or their representatives had also met with Cahill on July 29 after news broke of the decision to close down the 20 schools.
However, on Aug. 31, Cahill wrote back to the elected officials, stating that reopening the schools is not possible. He noted that the decision behind the school closures included “drastic reductions in student enrollments and rapidly increasing financial deficits.”
In the case of Our Lady of Pompeii, enrollment was down to 83 students while the school was running an annual operating deficit of more than $1 million, according to his letter.
“We are not willing, or able, at this time to reconsider these closings,” Cahill said.
He also lamented “a lack of governmental support…that would assist our schools,” apparently meaning the Church is unsatisfied with the amount of funding it gets from local government.
“We do not have unlimited resources,” he maintained, “and the pandemic has had a devastating financial impact on our programs and operations.”
Cahill acknowledged that the parents from Pompeii and the other schools have indeed done an admirable job fundraising, but that it’s not enough.
“The parents of the closed schools have been engaged,” he said, “and, unfortunately, significant fundraising does not close the financial gap by a long shot.”
At the same time, the archdiocese’s chancellor claimed that whenever the Church closes a school it does, in fact, reach out to the Department of Education and School Construction Authority to see if they are interested in the building.
However, Cahill rebuffed the politicians’ request for a list of vacant Church properties.
“We always will seek to use our properties in the most prudent manner consistent with our mission,” he wrote, “be it for the development of affordable housing, parish use, and in certain cases when needed, sale to private entities to allow us to finance renovations to landmarked churches, compliance with burdensome unfunded mandates, or for programs to assist the disabled, the elderly and the hungry. We will continue to do so, and will appropriately involve those concerned.”
As reported by The Village Sun, a nearly 90-unit condo building slated to be privately developed in the East Village at the site of the archdiocese’s former Church of the Nativity, on Second Ave. between Second and Third Sts., will have no affordable units.
Meanwhile, Valerio Orselli, a leader of the Nativity Committee and the This Land Is Ours Community Last Trust, blasted Cahill’s response.
“This is a non-letter,” Orselli scoffed. “No commitment to hand over the information nor to consider really selling the properties for affordable housing. The subtext is, ‘It is your fault, City, that we failed financially because we did not get enough financial support from you.’ What entitlement.
“Based on [a] letter that Cardinal Dolan sent me back in 2019, he does not consider the sale of religious properties for luxury condo development a sordid use — regardless of its displacement impact on working-class people and communities of color.”