Sacred Heart pastor says school closure unavoidable

WEB EXTRA: LC Councilman Marshall Simien on Sacred Heart

A Lake Charles City Council member thinks, if the voucher system goes through,  it could be a lifeline for a local Catholic school that faces closure.

With all the talk of vouchers District A City Council Member Marshall Simien thinks it could be a great opportunity for Sacred Heart School which is to close by next school year. But it seems the chance of the private school staying open is slim to none.

In recent years, Sacred Heart School has suffered severe financial difficulties due to declining enrollment and the announcement came recently that the school will close.

Still, Simien knows the school's rich history and wonders if education reform results in a voucher system that could help Sacred Heart survive."I was looking at what was going on in Baton Rouge with education reform and I said, wow, there's going to be a lot of kids, especially from the community in and around Sacred Heart, that there are a lot of failing schools. This voucher plan comes through these kids are going to have vouchers, and I don't know how much capacity a private school would have to take them but there's a perfect opportunity. I thought it was a great fit."

Monsignor Ronnie Groth is the pastor of Sacred Heart Church and the rector of the school. He says they tried hard to keep the school open, but must close due to mounting debt. "It's definitely a horrible thing that we have to close the school. The bishop really wanted to keep the school open. And when we had the fund drive to meet the deficit last year, which was close to a hundred thousand dollars, the bishop himself gave $35,000 of his own funds. No alumni contributed even a third of that amount," said Groth.

As well, he says, with uncertainty about what will happen in Baton Rouge, they cannot reverse their decision. Plus he fears a school where some pay and others have vouchers could cause hard feelings. "Those who have been faithfully sending their children to Sacred Heart School and then they're not going to be able to benefit from the vouchers because they're already enrolled here," said Monsignor Groth.  Reporter, "So you'd have people side by side, one getting it free basically and others having to pay."Said Monsignor Groth, "Right, it would seem to be a taxpayer injustice."

Still, City Council will consider a resolution asking that the school closure be reconsidered.  It comes up at the council's Wednesday meeting.  Said Simien, "The school was founded 104 years ago specifically to educate children who have these kind of, in these type of neighborhoods. So, I don't think that mission is accomplished yet."

To hear more of our interviews with Monsignor Groth and Marshall Simien, look for our web extras at

Copyright 2012 KPLC All rights reserved

What follows is from the Diocese of Lake Charles web site:

A Statement on Sacred Heart/St. Katharine Drexel Catholic School  
Saturday, 10 March 2012 16:04
Monsignor Ronald Groth, Pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, announced Friday, March 9, to the faculty and staff of Sacred Heart/Saint Katharine Drexel Catholic School that the school will not re-open for the 2012-2013 school year. On Saturday, March 10, he shared the news with Sacred Heart parishioners. The Pastor of Sacred Heart Parish referred the matter to the Diocesan School Board, who in accordance with Diocesan policy, made a recommendation for the action. The Most Reverend Glen John Provost, Bishop of Lake Charles, has accepted the recommendation. 

The Diocese of Lake Charles and the Office of Catholic Schools remain committed to the memory of Saint Katharine Drexel, Miss Eleanor Figaro and the numerous individuals involved with Sacred Heart/Saint Katharine Drexel Catholic School. While the history of the school is acknowledged, the lack of student enrollment and the lack of adequate funding preclude the re-opening of the school for 2012-2013. 

The dedication remains such that provisions will be made for those families who wish to continue their Catholic education. Superintendent of Catholic Schools, Mrs. Kimberlee Gazzolo, stated, "Information will be made available to current families in the coming weeks."

Monsignor Groth said, "The circumstances of depleted funding and diminished enrollment made the recommendation of the Diocesan School Board necessary. I thank the parishioners of Sacred Heart Parish for their sacrificial commitment to the school over many years."  Bishop Provost commented, "All of us are deeply saddened by this event.   Over the last few years, the diocese, Sacred Heart Parish, and members of the community at large have made numerous attempts to raise consciousness of the dire situation and to address the problems of financing and fewer students.  I sincerely wish the decision to have been otherwise.  Nonetheless, we recommit ourselves to the cause of educating our youth and to ensuring that the present students at Sacred Heart/St. Katharine Drexel School and future students in our community will benefit from a Catholic education."