By Randall Yip
Count me as one of the alumni saddened by the pending closure of St. Mary’s Chinese Catholic School in Chinatown.
The announcement made by the Catholic Archdiocese in San Francisco is being blamed on low enrollment. The school will close at the end of this school year.
It is not completely unexpected, but disappointing nonetheless.
The school had just reopened at its new permanent location in San Francisco Chinatown in 2011 at the former site of the storied International Hotel.
The Archdiocese had extended a big loan to construct the school at the new site and the current enrollment of just 80 students could not support the loan payments.
Among the alumni who have graduated from the school is former San Francisco Police Chief Heather Fong, Newberry Prize winning children’s author Lawrence Yep, San Francisco Supervisor Gordon Lau who was the first Chinese American to serve on that board, my uncle Willie Woo Woo Wong who was inducted into the University of San Francisco Hall of Fame for his years on the basketball team and my aunt, Helen Wong Lum who was inducted into both the Northern California Tennis Association Hall of Fame and the San Francisco Prep Hall of Fame.
St. Mary’s is also known for its Drum and Bell Corp. At its height, the corp played at John F Kennedy’s inauguration. The group is a fixture at the annual Chinese New Year parade and many celebrations around the Bay Area.
St. Mary’s originally opened in 1921 and was operated by the Paulist Fathers. Officially the Archdiocese is calling the closure a suspension, leaving open the possibility it could be reopened if demand can support it. While I do believe in the power of prayer, the chances of reopening the school are slim and the archdiocese knows it. San Francisco’s youth population has declined in the last few decades as families move out to more affordable cities. Until housing is more affordable in the city, families will continue to flee, leaving demand for schools such as St. Mary’s low.
When I went there, enrollment was to capacity. That was at the old location on 902 Stockton Street, but that location was deemed unsafe due to an earthquake hazard in 1989. St. Mary’s was moved to a temporary site at Guadalupe Church on Broadway. It would be decades before St. Mary’s would move to its current permanent location. It was during those years that attendance declined and never recovered.
St. Mary’s Catholic in San Francisco to suspend elementary school in June
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