Mater Dei Prep will close for good at end of current school year


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MIDDLETOWN — After 61 years of providing academic excellence to Monmouth County and the Diocese of Trenton, Mater Dei Prep High School will be closing its doors at the completion of the academic year in June 2022.

The announcement of the school’s imminent closing was made in a press release issued by the school on May 9.

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All classes, athletic team schedules, guidance and extracurricular activities will continue in full force through the end of the current academic year, according to the press release.

The Board of Trustees made the decision to close the school after deep deliberation and amid continued support for Mater Dei Prep, according to the press release.

Kathryn A. McLaughlin, the board’s chair, said, “Mater Dei Prep is a wonderful high school and a close-knit family. We have cherished the many years of excellent education led by our dedicated administration, faculty, staff and coaches, and we are grateful for the extraordinary efforts by the Mater Dei Prep School Board of Trustees, alumni, donors and families who supported our mission. The fact is that we simply do not have the funds to continue school operations after this academic year.”

Since 2014, enrollment at Mater Dei Prep has declined by more than half. Fewer students and the resulting loss in revenue through the years has created an operational deficit that depleted the school’s reserve despite aggressive fundraising efforts, according to the press release.

In February 2015, the pastor of St. Mary’s Parish announced that the school – then known as Mater Dei High School – would be closing at the end of the 2014-15 school year, in the wake of chronic fiscal deficits, according to the press release.

A dedicated group of alumni and parents stepped up and successfully lobbied the Diocese of Trenton and Bishop David M. O’Connell to spin off the former Mater Dei High School into an independent 501(c) nonprofit corporation. An ambitious and successful campaign raised more than $1.5 million to ensure continued operations, according to the press release.

Since that time, the funds were fully leveraged to maintain continuity and to create new sports and high-quality academic programs. However, the subsequent years saw further declines in applications and enrollment.

Those factors and declines in fundraising were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which began in March 2020. The combination of higher costs, fewer students and demographic trends created structural operating losses, according to the press release.

This most recent development caps a decade-long nationwide decline in Catholic education.

According to the National Catholic Educational Association, almost 1,000 elementary and secondary schools have closed since 2009.

In New Jersey, there have been more than 100 closings in the past two decades. Notable recent closings include Mother Seton Academy in Howell, Holy Innocents School in Neptune and Saint Joseph High School in Hammonton, a South Jersey football powerhouse. All of those closings resulted from similar enrollment and revenue challenges faced by Mater Dei Prep, according to the press release.

“Mater Dei Prep is proud of its service to the community through six decades, maintaining the highest standards of Catholic education. This has been a painful and difficult decision for everyone involved.

“We are heartened knowing the positive impact Mater Dei Prep has made in the lives of our current and former students, their families and alumni who have been so supportive of our efforts through this challenging period,” McLaughlin said.

Mater Dei Prep’s current enrollment of 220 students represents a dramatic decline from more than 300 students as recently as 2018, according to the press release.

“Despite our best efforts, we cannot bridge the annual operational gap of more than $1 million. We concluded that further cuts would only compromise the quality of education for which Mater Dei Prep is known.

“The steady decline in enrollment, along with increasing expenses and the ongoing financial assistance we provide to our families has made this closure unavoidable,” McLaughlin said.

Mater Dei opened in 1961 and has been guided and directed by the principles of the Catholic Church. The school has awarded more than 8,000 diplomas to young men and young women, according to the press release.

School administrators, faculty members, guidance counselors, staff and coaches will continue their commitment to the enrolled students, parents and guardians, and will focus their efforts on assisting families to make the necessary arrangements for transfers to other regional Catholic high schools, according to the press release.

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