St. Leo the Great Catholic School will permanently close its doors at the end of this 2017-2018 school year and not re-open for the upcoming 2018-2019 school year due to declining enrollment and financial challenges. A meeting was held with parents and staff at the school on Thursday, May 17, at 6 p.m., to discuss plans moving forward for the students and personnel there.
The School Council of St. Leo the Great Catholic School and Father Frank Macias, pastor, reluctantly reached the conclusion to close the school despite the best efforts in recent years of dedicated parents and staff and the support of Principal Carol Johnson. One hundred and 115 students attended St. Leo’s this school year.
The school can trace its beginnings to 1914 when Mrs. Octavia LaComte donated an acre of land at South Flores and Octavia Streets in memory of her deceased husband for a church and school. In the early days of St. Leo’s Parish, Mass was celebrated in parishioners’ homes.
The first building for St. Leo the Great School, located at 119 Octavia Place, was dedicated on April 11, 1920, the feast of St. Leo, by Bishop Arthur J. Drossaerts. The parish building was a two story structure. The church occupied the ground floor and the school and convent were located on the second floor.
For the first few years, Sisters of Divine Providence taught in the new school. Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament succeeded them in 1924 and then guided the youth of the parish for more than 50 years. Archbishop Robert Lucey dedicated an addition to the school, enlarged by eight classrooms, in 1947. More construction six years later saw six more classrooms being added. A cafeteria-gymnasium was constructed in 1954.
Through the years, the school provided priestly vocations to the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, the Society of Mary, the Congregation of the Mission, and the Salvatorian Fathers. The religious life attracted young women to the Congregations of Divine Providence, Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament, Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Salesian Sisters, and Daughters of Mary Immaculate.
Enrollment for the school was steady for many years. However, gradually, over time, St. Leo the Great struggled with declining enrollment. Combined with that challenge, economic uncertainties, changing demographics of the area, and a shifting educational landscape, it became impossible for the pastor, principal, staff, and parish community to overcome these difficulties. In recent years, St. Leo’s became a Dual Language School of Leadership, working in conjunction with Boston College on the program.
Marti West, superintendent of Catholic Schools, and her staff will provide resources to assist St. Leo the Great families to become acquainted with other Catholic schools. A school fair to provide more information on Catholic school options for students and parents will be held in the archdiocesan Pastoral Center at 2718 West Woodlawn on Tuesday, June 12, from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
In addition, a Hope for the Future tuition assistance grant for each student currently registered for the 2018-2019 school year at St. Leo the Great will be offered to help with their transition to a new Catholic school. Also, the Catholic Schools Department will work with teachers and staff from St. Leo’s to give personnel information concerning employment opportunities at other facilities in the Catholic School system.
Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, MSpS, said he knows it was a painful decision to close the school, and that the decision came after careful consideration by the pastor and the School Council. “The lives of thousands have been enriched by the fine education students have received at St. Leo the Great Catholic School for decades, and we want to honor and cherish that precious legacy,” the archbishop said. “Many graduates have become leaders in our community and region, and we have tremendous respect for the teachers and staff who did outstanding work in passing on the faith through Catholic education.”
“It is with gratitude that we acknowledge and celebrate the one hundred year legacy of Catholic education provided by St. Leo the Great Catholic School. There are many loyal and passionate individuals that have worked tirelessly to carry on the mission of St. Leo’s,” said Superintendent West. “It is difficult and heartbreaking to see a school with this legacy close its doors, but I pray they take comfort in knowing they have contributed positively to the lives of countless children over the last century.”
There are 38 Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of San Antonio with a total enrollment serving more than 10,000 students.