Five years after St. Mary’s School in Platteville closed, efforts are under way to reopen the school, possibly as early as this coming school year.
St. Mary Catholic Church announced last week that a public meeting will be held in the church basement Wednesday, April 12 at 6:30 p.m. Supporters have also set up a Facebook page, St. Mary’s School Project.
“The more people who commit to this project, the sooner we will be able to provide a complete Catholic education for our children,” wrote Rev. Faustino Ruiz, St. Mary’s pastor, in the letter.
Ruiz said the school would open gradually until it had classes in prekindergarten through eighth grade. Reopening the school would require the approval of the Madison Catholic Diocese’s bishop, Robert Morlino, and the diocese’s superintendent of schools.
The letter said that interest in reopening the school started with “a considerable number of young families in our parish” who “began seeking a Catholic school in Platteville for the education of their children.” Ruiz wrote that the school also has support from “a number of long-time parishioners.”
A meeting was held in February 2016. Ruiz wrote that committees on student recruitment, finances, operations and curriculum have been working since last summer.
Ruiz wrote that the school’s goal would be “to provide to our children an outstanding education based on Catholic values,” including “by preparing our children to distinguish evil from good from the point of view of God and by encouraging them to practice their faith in Jesus Christ, we prepare our children to become the light of the world.”
Ruiz wrote that the school would be open to non-Catholic families, and would “provide a Catholic education that develops the virtues of honesty, integrity, discipline, dignity, justice, compassion and service to others — benefiting all students, no matter their faith.”
St. Mary’s School opened across the street from the church in 1935. The church was in the midst of a capital campaign to raise money to purchase the former O.E. Gray School from Platteville Public Schools, where it moved after PPS closed O.E. Gray in 2008. The church had raised $1.9 million of the $2.1 million campaign goal, according to the church’s website.
Then Rev. Charles Schluter, St. Mary’s pastor, was replaced by priests from the Society of Jesus Christ the Priest in 2010. Over the next two years, school enrollment and financial contributions dropped. In February 2012, the school announced it would be combining some grade levels in the same classroom due to low enrollments in all but fifth and sixth grades.
Ruiz announced in March 2012 that the school was in “serious financial trouble,” with $90,000 in debts on top of a $190,000 operational loan. The church sought $160,000 in donations in the second half of April 2012, increasing weekly contributions that varied from $3,000 to $8,000 per week up to at least $11,500 per week, to keep the school open.
One month later, Morlino announced the school was closing.
“It has been said that the only solution for saving the parish school would be for me to remove Fr. Faustino Ruiz and Fr. John Del Priore,” wrote Morlino in a letter to parishioners announcing the school’s closing in April 2012. “I think, however, that at the end of the day, the Catholic faith is being taught according to the proper understanding of the Second Vatican Council, and that what remains are personal likes and dislikes, along with inflated rumors and gossip, some of which may even rise to the level of calumnious inciting of hatred of your priests, the faith, and myself. For these likes and dislikes, gossip, and hurt feelings, the Catholic faith is rejected and a school is closed.”
St. Mary’s School had 84 students, down from 135 two years earlier, on its last day, June 1, 2012.