Ladywood High School, an all-girls Catholic school in Livonia, is closing at the end of the 2017-18 school year, a letter to the school community announced Monday.
The decision is the result of an evaluation last month on whether the school "had a viable and sustainable future," considering an enrollment trend that has enrollment down 60 percent since 2005. In late November, the decision was made. On Monday, it was announced publicly.
"We could not ignore the enrollment trend," wrote Sr. M. Alfonsa Van Overberghe, chair of the school's board of trustees. "Nor did we want to raise tuition to cost-prohibitive levels to maintain our quality education with significantly fewer students."
School spokeswoman Mary Henige said the school has 169 students, which is only about 28 percent of the students Ladywood had at its peak enrollment in 1964-65 when the school boasted nearly 600 students.
On Tuesday, the school held grade-level meetings for its students. There will be public events in the future, Henige said. The focus now is "sharing the news, helping students and families" navigate the change.
The letter cited "the 2008 recession and changing demographics due to lower birth rates" as a circumstance all schools, not just Catholic, must face. But the decision to close was made by the Felician Sisters of North America.
Morning prayer at Ladywood Tuesday included a reading from Jeremiah 29:11, Henige said. That reads: "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'"
"We will continue to provide exceptional spiritual, academic and athletic programs for our students, as we've done since 1950 through the end of this school year, in June," but not beyond that.
Now the school's focus will turn to "an extensive plan to help students and parents identify and find a new school for the 2018-19 school year," the letter said. A $500 annual scholarship will be available for any girl who enrolls in another Catholic school, starting in 2018-19.
The school hopes students will take up that offer.
"We are confident that through prayer and the unwavering assistance of our faculty and staff, that all our young women will find a home at another Catholic school," the letter concludes.
Parents waiting outside the school Tuesday afternoon to pick up their children expressed shock and dismay at the announcement.
Student Emma Snead, a freshman, said she is still coming to terms with the news, which was announced Monday to students and families.
“I’m really upset right. I’m really devastated,” Snead said after school on Tuesday. “I feel abandoned. Like we were just left there.”
But after learning the news, Snead said she started making a plan to search for a new school. St. Catherine of Siena Academy in Wixom is a likely candidate for next year.
Being a student at Ladywood has been a wonderful experience, said Snead, who lives in Livonia.
“My first year has been such an amazing experience. It is a sisterhood here. This (the news) is like a death in the family,” Snead said.
Student Sophia Dunn, a senior at Ladywood, said the mood inside school was somber on Tuesday as fellow students coped with the news of being displaced next year.
“The vibe is a lot sadder than before. Most of the girls are lost; they don’t know if they are going to public or private school,” Dunn said of the lower classmen.
Ladywood's closing comes at a time of contraction for Catholic schools in Metro Detroit. According to a July 2016 factsheet published by the Archdiocese of Detroit, there were only 89 Catholic schools left locally, down 72 percent from the 321 that existed in 1970. In 1990, there were 192 Catholic schools in the region.
Ladywood is one of 24 Catholic high schools left in the archdiocese; come June, that number will fall to 23, confirmed Holly Fournier, media relations manager for the Archdiocese of Detroit.
In a statement on Ladywood's coming closure, the Rev. Steve Pullis, director of the Department of Evangelization, Catechesis and Catholic Schools for the Archdiocese of Detroit, said: "The decision to close a religious order-sponsored school is difficult for all involved — those in leadership; the administrators, faculty and staff on site; and, the students, their parents, and supporters whose loyalty and dedication have been critical to the institution’s mission.
"The Felician Sisters have sponsored all-girls Catholic secondary education in Southeast Michigan since 1882. Their commitment, their presence, and their graduates have contributed greatly to the Catholic fabric of the Archdiocese of Detroit. It’s especially commendable that Ladywood is offering scholarships to their students who transfer to another Catholic High School.
"Our Office of Catholic Schools is ready to assist these families as they seek other avenues to continue the Catholic education for these girls."