Parents, children shocked after learning St. Patrick's Catholic School will close

Interview with Lucy Hellein

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - Parents and students in Phenix City are in shock after finding out a local private school is closing its doors just a couple years after re-building it.

St. Patrick Catholic School on 40th Street lost its main building in a fire two years ago, and the community rallied around the school, helping raise money to give it its fresh start.

Thursday afternoon after the school day ended, teachers, students and their mothers stood in the main building, overwhelmed by the sudden announcement they received on Wednesday.

If St. Patrick's indeed closes, that will leave St. Anne-Pacelli School as the only Catholic educational institution in the area.

Samantha Knipe, mother of three children at St. Patrick, said the school has built a reputation for offering "quality, Catholic education for everybody."

"That's why they're so reasonable and they're so affordable," Knipe said tearfully. "They really care about these kids."

After the original school building burned down, the community raised $800,000 to build the current facility.

Students like 5th grader Skylah VinZant said St. Patrick has become a second family away from home.

"I feel like this is a safe place for the kids to come, and just have fun and not have bullies or anything like that," she said.

Robin Bledsoe, mother of a special needs student enrolled in St. Patrick, doesn't want to relocate her son to a public school in Phenix City, where she fears he won't be given the proper care or connect with his teachers the way he has at his current school.

"He had already been denied an aide," she said. "He already is comfortable here. He loves his teachers, he knows that they love him, and we would've kept him here as long as we could."

Parents had heard rumors of a potential shutdown, but after two years of rebuilding from a fire that destroyed the old school building, some feel this decision now leaves a number of teachers and students with no place left to go.

"It honestly doesn't make a lot of sense to me why good people are being punished," Knipe said. "We're the ones that have to suffer for it, and these kids have to suffer for it. And that's not right."

Student Chase Peterson fears facing the bullying he received at public school again. He said St. Patrick is the only school that's been willing to help him learn and grow with his ADHD.

"I was just like everybody else," Peterson said.

The Archdiocese of Mobile sent staff and teachers at St. Patrick a statement, prohibiting them from talking to any members of the media.

Despite facing a closing date at the end of this school year on May 27, Knipe and other concerned parents said they won't give up the school without a fight.

"We're basically pleading with Father Jose of St. Patrick's Church and the Archdiocese of Mobile to just reconsider their decisions here," Knipe said.

"I don't think that they quite understand the impact that this is going to have on a lot of people," she said.

Other parents told WTVM News Leader 9 they're preparing a petition, asking the Archdiocese to change its mind and keep St. Patrick open.

The Archdiocese could not be reached for comment. The school released a statement on Friday. You can read it here:

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