Catherine McAuley High School in Portland, which was founded by the Sisters of Mercy in 1969 as an all-girl Catholic secondary education institution, announced plans to sever ties with its religious sponsors starting next fiscal year, July 1, 2016.
“To best realize their vision and mission, institutions must evolve with the times,” said McAuley board chairwoman Heidi Osborn and Sister Jacqueline Marie Kieslich, president of the Northeast Community of the Sisters of Mercy, in a joint statement. “Together, McAuley and the Sisters of Mercy have concluded that the school can best continue to serve its students by ending our historical affiliation.”
Head of School Karen Woodson Barr said Wednesday the school would continue to encourage “students of all faiths … to have a spiritual life,” and would maintain its “foundation of ethical and moral values.”
The move is an earth-shaking one for both the school and the Catholic education landscape in Maine.
McAuley has long been recognized as a top Maine school inside the classroom and out, recently ranked as the state’s No. 1 private school by Down East magazine readers, and regularly challenging for state titles in sports and other extra curricular competitions.
And you can learn more about the school at its website.
Meantime, some additional details from The Portland Press Herald:
Since 1969, thousands of young women from southern Maine have attended the school on Stevens Avenue, but in the past 10 years, enrollment has dropped from around 200 students to 120.
Nuns, who once lived on the campus, no longer teach at the school, and their former convent is scheduled for redevelopment into senior housing.
The Sisters of Mercy, who founded the school, are planning to sell the 12-acre site of the campus and convent this year, a plan that initially prompted the school to consider relocating. The developer, however, has agreed to extend the school’s lease, and McAuley plans to remain at the site for at least 25 years.
Head of School Kathryn Barr said Wednesday that becoming an independent school will free the board of trustees from having to report to the Sisters of Mercy’s Northeastern Community in Cumberland, Rhode Island.
“We’ll be able to make more local decisions and work more quickly,” she said, while denying that the governance structure had created any holdups.
Barr also said she hopes that dropping ties to the Catholic church will “open the doors to other girls,” although she didn’t believe the affiliation had hurt enrollment because the school has always welcomed girls from all religious backgrounds.
…Heidi Osborn, chairwoman of the board of trustees, said the decision was based on keeping local control of the school as it launches new initiatives, including a leadership development program, a partnership with the University of New England that allows McAuley students to earn college credits, and the incorporation of art and religion into its STEM – science, technology engineering and math – program and calling it STREAM.
Osborn said the Sisters of Mercy were restructuring their organization and control of the school was headed to their national office.
“We think it’s best for the girls,” Osborn said of the decision to end the relationship.
Photo: McAuley High School website