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January 17, 2013

St. Camillus to close in May

Financial reasons cited for Corbin school shutting down

CORBIN — By Jeff Noble, Staff Writer

St. Camillius Academy, a center of learning, inspiration and life in Corbin for more than 100 years, will close its doors for good in May.

The private Catholic school, which sits atop a hill in East Corbin and serves 83 students from Montessori to 6th Grade, will shut down at the end of the current school year.

The decision to close was made Tuesday by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lexington, which has operated St. Camillus for the past two years. Diocese officials told school officials that financial reasons were to blame for the closing.

It was Diocese Superintendent Tim Weaver who came to Corbin to tell the school about the closing. He first met Tuesday morning with Terry Newquist, the principal of St. Camillus. Then Weaver spoke with teachers in the afternoon, and later met with the school’s board in the evening.

It was Newquist who told the students the news on Wednesday.

“The superintendent came down from Lexington and said it was a financial decision from the diocese. We’re still in shock, to be honest. Our school council is just not willing to give up. We’d like to save the school, that’s what we have to look at. But we’re overwhelmed by this news right now,” Newquist said at her office Wednesday morning.

She added the reaction from the students was what one would expect, and that some were very upset by the news of the school’s closing.

“It’s been a tough day. That’s because we really are a family here. The staff, the faculty, the children and the parents are one big family. I know every student by name. The kids start here in Montessori, and they only have one class per grade up to the 6th Grade. The parents drop their kids off in the morning, talk to each other in the car lane, and pick them up in the afternoon. And everyone knows everyone else’s kids. This is a very close-knit community. Very much here at St. Camillius,” Newquist noted.

The operation of St. Camillus was part of a three-year agreement between the diocese and the Sisters of Divine Providence, who own the school and property. Based at St. Anne Convent in the northern Kentucky community of Melbourne, the Sisters have played a major role in St. Camillus since its beginnings in 1908.

Corbin and 50 counties in central and eastern Kentucky belong to the Diocese of Lexington, which was established in 1988. It was formed from parts of the Archdiocese of Louisville and the Diocese of Covington. The Most Reverend Ronald W. Gainer is Bishop of the Diocese of Lexington.

In a phone interview, Weaver said the contract to run St. Camillus had provisions, with one in particular addressing the school’s finances.

“One of the provisions was that we could terminate the contract, due to financial reasons. Two years ago, the school had around 130 students. They’ve lost students since then but picked up a little this school year. And it cost $268,000 to cover all expenses in the two years the diocese has operated St. Camillus. Last Friday, I met with the Sisters in Melbourne, talked to them about the situation, and they agreed to close the school. They are not able to continue the school on their own, either.”

Newquist noted the agreement for St. Camillus to be run by the diocese was to keep the school in operation.

“The population of the Sisters (of Divine Providence) was declining, and they couldn’t afford to run the school. We’ve had declining enrollment over the years. We’re not unique. Most Catholic and private schools are struggling right now. That was the hope to keep the school going, to have the diocese run the school. As for the property, it’s owned by the Sisters, so it will be the Sisters who will determine what happens to the property.”

A call Wednesday to the Sisters of Divine Providence in Melbourne, Ky., was not returned.

News of the school’s closing came during Newquist’s first year as principal. Like many who work at St. Camillus, she’s been with the school for years, which reinforces the sense of family that she has with students and staff.

“My oldest daughter is 22-years-old. She started here when she was 3-years-old. That’s how long I’ve been here at the school. I’ve done every job there has to be done at the school. Drive the buses, clean the toilets, work in the cafeteria, teach, of course, and now principal. I know this school like the back of my hand.”

When the shock of the school’s closing dies down, Newquist said those who want to save St. Camillius will begin to get together, to find ways to prevent its shutdown. Next Tuesday the school will have a parent meeting at the school at 7 p.m., to keep parents informed on what’s happening, and listen to ideas they may have.

Even with the clock running down the days until May, Newquist, and others who are a part of the school, say they’ll hold out for hope.

Holding back tears, she said quietly, “We can’t see where it is right now, but we still have hope. As one of our board members said last night, ‘If God wants this school to be open, it will be open.’”

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