Bellaire St. John will close, diocese announces

BELLAIRE — If you’ve ever talked to someone that attended St. John Central High School in Bellaire, you can tell they loved their school.

For them it wasn’t just a place to get educated — it was almost a second home.

On Tuesday, students, alumni and friends of the school learned St. John Central High School will close for good at the end of this school year.

The Diocese of Steubenville made the announcement, citing declining enrollment and financial hardship as the main reasons for the decision.

“I am extremely disappointed; however the enrollment, declining financial resources and support, and the estimated necessary capital expenditures are now beyond our control and leave me with no real choice,” Bishop Jeffrey Monforton said.

A unanimous vote by the school’s governing board of pastors in consultation with the diocesan Catholic schools office led to Tuesday’s announcement, information from the diocese states.

Bellaire resident and village police Chief Richard “Dick” Flanagan graduated from St. John Central in 1979.

He said his was the last class to graduate more than 100 students, and that he was not surprised to hear the news of the school’s pending closure.

“It’s a shame. It was a great place to spend our youth. I went to school with people I am still friends with today,” he said. “I hate to hear it, but I understand.”

Flanagan was on the football and baseball teams and also wrestled at St. John’s and noted the school had good coaches. He said during more recent years the school boasted a good girls’ sports program.

“I had a lot of laughs and good times there,” Flanagan noted.

The Rev. Dan Heusel, who is the pastoral administrator of St. John Grade School and pastor of the St. John Church in Bellaire and St. Mary’s in Shadyside, said everyone was saddened by the news.

“Everyone involved tried their best.

“It’s a sad decision, but one that really couldn’t be avoided,” Heusel said.

He said families with students at the school learned of the decision prior to the official diocesan announcement.

“It’s going to be hard for everybody. We have to put our faith in the Lord and finish our year strong,” he said.

The diocese noted enrollment has declined at the high school over the past decade, dropping from 91 students in 2015 to 40 students last school year.

What will happen with the grade school, which has an enrollment of 65, remains to be seen.

Monforton has asked Heusel and the parish community of St. John Catholic Church to present a plan for its future.

“A final decision concerning the elementary school will depend on the viability of that plan,” information from the diocese said.

Regarding the high school, the Rev. Timothy McGuire, pastoral administrator of St. John Central High School, agreed the diocese had no choice but to close the school.

“There have been many dedicated and enthusiastic people who have loved their time at St. John’s over the years, hence my sadness.

“However, St. John’s has served the community well for decades, and its former students and staff can be very proud of their contribution to the church and the wider community,” McGuire said.

To help with finances, the grade school was brought into the high school in 2016.

One of the more pressing challenges right now are repairs to the school’s heating system. While emergency repairs have been made, a long-term fix would cost about $500,000, the diocese said.

“Coupled with this new challenge is the reality that the financial assets which were used to help subsidize the high school budget over the last three years are almost expended,” information from the diocese states. ` “In addition, almost 25 percent of the high school budget is subsidized by local Catholic church support. The reality of a local diminishing economy has made it increasingly difficult for these parishes to continue providing the level of support required to maintain a school with such low enrollment.

“It was in view of these factors, at the request of the local Catholic pastors, in consultation with his chancery administration, and with the hopes of strengthening financial viability and enrollment for the remaining Catholic school options in Belmont County, that the decision was made to close St. John Central High School.”

High school principal Jarrett Kuhns did not immediately return messages Tuesday.