Over 40,000 students have graduated from Cardinal Dougherty High School since it first opened its doors in Olney on September 5, 1956. This June, the final set of seniors will cross the stage to receive their diplomas from the Catholic high school in Olney.
The official announcement about the closing of Dougherty issued by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, stated this four-year, coeducational high school has been having enrollment issues for quite some time now. Archdiocese officials have calculated a 43 percent drop over the past decade and projected an additional decline of 34 percent more over the next three years.
With a capacity to take on over 2,000 students, only about 650 currently attend Cardinal Dougherty. The current enrollment hardly compares to the number at the school’s peak enrollment of roughly 6,000 students in 1965.
Cardinal Dougherty isn’t the only school in the archdiocese that is having enrollment difficulties. Also closing its doors in June is the Northeast Catholic High School for Boys. Further, mergers and closings are affecting seven other schools associated with the organization. According to a report by NBC, more school closure announcements are expected next fall with the September opening of $65 million Pope Saint John II High School in Royersford.
For Cardinal Dougherty’s president of student affairs of past three years, Diana Graeber, the closure is nothing new.
“It’s very ironic for me,” she said, “because I came from Kennedy-Kenrick Catholic High School, which was closing. This job opened up and I thought, ‘Well, my school’s closing and I live in the city. Let me come to Cardinal Dougherty so I can finish my time here in the archdiocese,’ and now I’m in a school that’s closing. Fate is here.”
Although it is the second closure Graeber has experienced in a short span of
time, it doesn’t change the fact that for her and many others, this is a hard and emotional time. Still, she will look back on her time at the school fondly.
“It was a great learning experience,” Graeber said. “It was a great time for me. I’m sorry to see that it’s ending.”
Graeber is currently planning the school’s final events, such as the art show and spring concert that took place at Cardinal Dougherty on April 28.
“I try not to think about that,” she said. “I try not to put the words ‘the last’ on anything.”
Rather than lowering the morale of the students, the closure has left most of the student body confused and has raised many questions that, so far, cannot quite be answered.
“Students want to know what’s going on. They want to know what’s going to happen to the building,” said the Rev. Carl Janicki, the president of Cardinal Dougherty.
The school’s building, located on North Second Street, is the third largest of all the Philadelphia archdiocesan high schools and is the largest remaining inside this city. What will happen to the building is still up in the air. Last December, an alumni group announced they planned to purchase Cardinal Dougherty and reopen it as a private Catholic school, but nothing ever came of the statement.
To some students and alumni, the uncertainties about the building’s future are irrelevant in the discussion of Cardinal Dougherty’s closure.
“We all have to remember that the physical building isn’t what made Cardinal Dougherty,” said 2007 graduate Bonnie Templin. “It was the people and pride in the school that brought all of us together. We can’t feel sorry that we’ll no longer walk down the halls because we’ll always have each other to lean on. I
can only feel sorry for the thousands of students who won’t be able to experience what [Cardinal Dougherty] has to offer.”
What is certain is that the school has contributed a lot to the community and many of the lives involved in the school over the past half century. Faculty, students and alumni alike will be sad to see the school go. Despite the sadness of the situation, Father Janicki chooses to put a positive spin on things.
“The nice thing,” he said, “is when you look at the graduates and how they’ve achieved and you see the legacy they’ve created and the amount of effort and contribution they make to society. Knowing that will continue for the next 50 or some years with the current students is some relief.”