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Last Catholic school on Eastern Plains to have last year

St. Anthony School’s pastor announced this week that its doors would close after a nearly 100-year history of educating students in the Catholic academic tradition.

Father Robert Wedow, who consulted with principal Joseph Skerjanec, the Archdiocese of Denver, staff and advisory councils, decided the Sterling school would close in May 2015.

“Everyone wants a Catholic school, but the reality of our situation is our current school ministry is unsustainable,” he said. “It is with an extremely heavy pain in my heart that I make this statement.”

In a letter written to parish and school communities, Archbishop Samuel Aquila stated while the closure was a difficult decision, it is “the right course.”

Father Wedow broke the news to school staff Sept. 16 and in the following days informed parents and students.

The archdiocesan Office of Catholic Schools’ superintendent Richard Thompson said teachers, parents, students and the community reacted to the news with grief but an air of acceptance.

He made frequent visits to the kindergarten through eighth-grade school throughout last week and held several meetings. Counselors and a human resources representative were also on site. Thompson said it is normal to grieve a loss and he encouraged the community to pay tribute to the school and its history.

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“This is a moment in time that you’ll not get back,” Thompson said to the school community. “When you work through the grief, make sure you honor the nearly 100 years of this school and the shoulders upon which all of you are standing, and the people who have been there and the contributions it’s made.”

Like many schools, St. Anthony had its heyday and became the fabric of life in the rural town. More than 400 students were enrolled at one time, Father Wedow said.

Enrollment reached 133 students in 1999 and 175 students in 2007. Since then the number of enrolled students has declined. This year there are 68 students.

“Considering the demographics of that area, the pool of potential students is smaller, which makes sustainability more difficult over the long run,” Thompson said.

In recent years, the community rose to stand behind the Eastern Plains school as it began to falter from declining enrollment and burgeoning deficits. About $1.1 million in checks rolled in after the school sounded the alarm in January 2013. Seeds of Hope Charitable Trust, The Catholic Foundation and the archdiocese also invested more than $1.8 million over the last decade.

“For all those who generously contributed to our campaign two years ago, you need to know you changed the lives of our children, you helped them grow in holiness, you helped them to learn the Catholic faith and you helped them to become who God created them to be,” Father Wedow said. “I am extremely grateful.”

Yet the despite the heroic efforts of so many, the school can’t remain open, he said.

Father Wedow also said faith must be put in God.

“As in all things, I put my trust in the Lord that he will inspire us and raise us up to do his divine will,” he said, “for Jesus Christ is the greatest teacher.”


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