Seton Academy closure stings in Lower Mills

Citing “declining enrollment and mounting financial difficulties,” the board of Elizabeth Seton Academy voted last week to close the school, effective immediately. Frances Birmingham, the chair of the Board of Trustees, informed families about the news in a letter dated Aug. 3.

“For more than a decade, Elizabeth Seton Academy has offered families a private, all girls’ Catholic college preparatory high school experience,” Birmingham wrote. “Despite limited resources and enrollment challenges, Elizabeth Seton Academy has carried on its mission valiantly since 2003. This decision is based on the school’s current financial situation, increased debt obligations, declining enrollment, and increased costs of operations…. The financial challenges have simply become insurmountable.”

A school-placement fair was held at the school’s Lower Mills campus on Sunday to help families to transition to “one of the area Catholic schools that have offered assistance to the students.”

Elizabeth Seton Academy was created in 2003 by a volunteer committee of alumnae and former staff of Monsignor Ryan Memorial High, which closed its doors on Mayhew Street earlier that year after 85 years of educating Catholic girls in Dorchester. It has been housed in what was once St. Gregory’s High School on Dorchester Avenue in Lower Mills.

The loss of Seton Academy is a disappointment on multiple fronts. Certainly the school reflected the best aspirations of many who value Catholic education in the city.

My Reporter colleague Elana Aurise, a 2009 graduate of ESA who once worked in the school’s development office, wrote about the “heartbreak” she felt upon hearing the news last week:

“The school tried their best with the little they were given. The faculty and staff worked tirelessly to give their students the best education they could – contributing their own money into buying extra books or school supplies for the classroom,” wrote Elana.

“We didn’t have many extracurricular activities – but we had some – and sure, sometimes we got made fun of by other schools for the absence of excess, but realistically, the students who went to ESA didn’t come from luxury to begin with. They came from hardworking, low-to-moderate income families seeking an affordable and safe private Catholic high school for their daughters, and we, as students, got just that.”

At her graduation ceremony, Elana says, she realized how much the school shaped her as a person. “I was looking around at all of my classmates during the traditional candlelight ceremony, and I thought, I’ll never meet people like this again. I honestly thought that was true. I haven’t met people like that since – who are humble, forgiving, welcoming, and smart as hell, exuding a lack of pretentiousness and privilege, embracing humility as result, since that’s what we were taught: to be kind above all else and to take the gifts we were given as a blessing. “I witnessed the way it changed girls’ lives for the better. It changed mine for the better, and for that, I’m eternally thankful.”

Seton Academy was the last all girls’ Catholic high school left in the city of Boston, Elana noted. “And it’s a shame history has repeated itself. There is a need and there is an opportunity, and we, as a community, let it slip through our fingers.”