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Dearborn's St. Sebastian Catholic School to close

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News
St. Sebastian Catholic School opened in September 1952 with 378 students in grades 1 through 6.

Dearborn Heights — Like other parents of students who walk the halls at St. Sebastian Catholic School, Kevin Egle looked forward to his children thriving there each year.

But weeks ago, he learned they would no longer have the chance. Citing declining enrollment coupled with rising operation costs, officials announced the nearly 67-year-old institution is closing when classes end in June.

Egle and his wife, who also attended the school, now only have a few months to decide where to send their three kids in the fall.

“It’s disappointing to end up in this situation,” he said. “I feel like we were going in the right direction.”

Parents and parishioners are reeling from news St. Sebastian leaders gained approval from the Archdiocese of Detroit to shutter the building that has welcomed pupils since 1952 and once counted Franciscan nuns as staffers.

The move followed months of deliberation, said Chris Bergeron, chair for the parish council at St. Sebastian Catholic Church, which predated the school by about three years. “It was a very, very difficult decision.”

In a March 24 bulletin, the Rev. Canon Walter Ptak, the church pastor, noted it “was an announcement that no one wanted to hear but one that has been looming for the past ten years or so as the enrollment has been declining and the cost to run our school has dramatically increased.”

The enrollment is currently about 25 students in pre-kindergarten and 96 in first through eighth grades, Bergeron said. Many belong to families that attend the parish, but interest among neighbors in sending their children there has declined in recent years, she added.

Only about 50 students had been pre-registered for the next school year, said Ned McGrath, a spokesman for the archdiocese.

Meanwhile, St. Sebastian can no longer make up the difference between tuition, which can top $3,000 per student, and the education costs, Bergeron said. “It’s heartbreaking, but we can’t afford to subsidize it anymore.”

The parish officials explored options to stay open but, after discussions with the archdiocese and the vicariate that includes St. Sebastian, “it made sense for them to close,” McGrath said.

This week, parents attended a meeting with representatives from other schools where they could opt to enroll their children. 

Egle plans to send his kids to another Catholic school. He also is president of St. Sebastian’s booster club, which will continue to have tee-ball, baseball and softball this summer. That group’s future remains unknown, but Egle also wonders whether his children could replicate their experience at a new building.

“We want the family feel and the connections that you make on a parental level,” he said. “We’ve got to start over with that. We’ll move forward, but it would be nice not to have to do that.