Lies and Goodbyes: The End of a Tradition

This is the last part of my series on my high school, Holy Rosary Academy. In the Spring of 2002, it was announced that the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine were handing the school over to the Archdiocese of Louisville. They did not feel that they had the ability, desire, or money to manage it anymore. The Archdiocese then promptly announced that they were closing the school upon the graduation of its 135th class that May. While the school was not financially unstable at the moment, according to the Archdiocese it was expected to be within the next few years.

Let’s backtrack to about 1993. The Archdiocese did a study of all eight Catholic high schools in the city of Louisville. They deduced that Presentation Academy, another all-girls school, and Holy Cross, the only co-ed school, were in the worst condition. Holy Rosary was lauded for it financial stability, even if they weren’t the richest of schools. Holy Rosary had room to expand if necessary unlike some other schools. And Holy Rosary had a great relationship with the local all-boys school DeSales High, with the two schools sharing college level courses and a drama program. Holy Rosary was given great reviews for such a low-cost school.

By my senior year, Presentation Academy was on the verge of bankruptcy and set to close. The students, alumni, and community rallied around them to keep the school open. Each class from Holy Rosary donated money from their class funds to help the rival school stay open. I made it on television when the senior class president and I took the money over to the school. All of the other high schools donated money, too. Presentation was saved. They were also bought out by Spalding University, ensuring them future financial security.

So, it’s 2002. Holy Rosary is set to close. Students, alumni, and the community rally to save the school. They are told if they reach a million dollars the school will stay open. While the other Catholic schools neglect to donate any money, two wealthy business men offer to donate the needed money. But it doesn’t matter. The Archdiocese is still closing down the school and selling the building. Everyone who donated by check will get a refund. A school that has been around longer than the Kentucky Derby comes to an end.

Over the next few months more information kept coming out through the community grapevine. The other Catholic schools were specifically instructed by the Archdiocese not to donate money to Holy Rosary. The building had been sold to Catholic Charities before the school administration was even informed that the school would be closing. The whole fund raising effort was a sham from the start. I ran into the principal at a Denny’s one night, weeks before she was leaving to take a job out of state. She said that they had seriously talked about moving the school to a different location using the donations as start up, but the Archdiocese had told them that they would not recognize the school in any way.

Many of the teachers and staff had worked there for 20+ years. They were scrambling to find new positions. The underclassmen had to decide where to finish out their high school years. And amazingly the school had their largest freshman class in like 15 years set to start the following year. All of those girls had to rethink their futures as well. Many families were so disgusted with the Archdiocese that they moved their girls to public school.

The whole thing left a bitter taste in the mouths of a lot of people.  We really felt like the Archdiocese had lied to everyone, and many people saw it as a knock against the “poorer” end of town.  Others said the Archdiocese used the sell of the building to pay off sex abuse victims.  The worst part was giving everyone false hope that they could save the school by raising money; it seemed like it was just done for P.R. purposes.

I really had hoped to make it back that year for the Ramble for the Roses, the Derby Festival event sponsored by Holy Rosary, before the school closed.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t feeling well that day because I was in the early months of my pregnancy with my oldest daughter.  The last time I was there was the previous fall for a card party.  I’ve passed the building a few times when we’ve been back home for visits, and I always feel a mixture of sadness and anger every time.  And as I finish up this post I am reminded  of a poem that I read during my time at Holy Rosary Academy.  It reminds me that nothing lasts forever:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

-“Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley

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