St. Boniface School in Fort Smith announced July 18 that it will not open its doors to school children in August.
It was the oldest Catholic school in Fort Smith, operating for 132 years. When it was founded as a school for German Catholic families in the area, it was operated by sisters from St. Scholastica Monastery in Fort Smith and later Holy Angel Convent in Jonesboro.
After consultation with Bishop Anthony B. Taylor, local pastors, principals and Theresa Hall, superintendent of Catholic schools, Father Mario Jacobo, pastor of St. Boniface Church, announced the decision to close the school during a town hall meeting with parents and parishioners July 17.
During an emotional town hall meeting at St. Boniface Church parish hall, Father Jacabo told parents, staff and supporters, This is a "very private and painful milestone in our history."
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor, Immaculate Conception Church pastor Father John Antony, and Christ the King Church pastor Father Juan Guido were also present for the announcement.
At the town hall meeting, it was revealed that the parish could no longer financially support the school. Enrollment for the 2018-2019 school year was 120 students, but as of July, only 72 students were scheduled to begin classes in August. Eighty percent of the students had requested reduced tuition.
The recommendation from a 10-month strategic plan was presented to the Fort Smith pastors and principals July 8. The plan was written to guide the four Catholics schools in Fort Smith to seek a collaborative solution to the challenges they face. The schools include Trinity Junior High, serving seventh-ninth grades; and three elementary schools, St. Boniface. Christ the King and Immaculate Conception. The report, written by the Institute for School and Parish Development, a well-known Catholic consulting firm, indicated that unifying St. Boniface School with Christ the King would be one option to consider.
“Even with substantial support from the endowment and private benefactors’ financial resources, it is not sufficient to ensure the long-term viability of the school,” Father Jacobo said.
Several teacher positions are available at Christ the King and Immaculate Conception schools, and St. Boniface teachers are being encouraged to apply. The students registered at St. Boniface are being encouraged to contact Christ the King or Immaculate Conception schools to begin the enrollment process.
“It is never easy to close a Catholic school, especially one with such a long tradition as St. Boniface,” the pastor said. “We might take comfort in knowing that the legacy of St. Boniface School lives on in all of us that have entered the doors and have walked the halls. History and tradition of the school lives on in the generations of students who were formed in its classrooms.”
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