Declining enrollment and falling revenues threaten to shutter St. Anthony of Padua Catholic School. The Park Falls community is banding together to keep the 92-year-old institution open in 2014-15. (Submitted file photo)

Anita Draper
Catholic Herald staff

Finances are reaching a crisis point at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic School, Park Falls.

The pre-K through eighth-grade school has been struggling financially for years, and parishioners were once again uncertain whether St. Anthony would be open this school year.

Now, according to Fr. Shaji Pazhukkathara, parochial administrator of the school and parishes in Butternut, Fifield and Park Falls, the finance committee must make the decision. By the end of January, if enough money isn’t raised, the lights will go out at the nearly century-old school.

Although the doors did open this year with the pledged financial support of the parish, the school needed a great deal of money – Fr. Shaji estimates about $1 million over several years – to achieve financial stability.

The parish held a town hall meeting this summer to discuss the dilemma. With the attendance and support of diocesan officials – Bishop James P. Powers, development director Steve Tarnowski, school superintendent Peggy Schoenfuss and finance director Richard Lyons – Fr. Shaji and committee members explained the school’s needs.

Although St. Anthony had hoped to join the Parental Choice voucher program, which would have allowed more students to attend and provided an influx of cash, the school had to withdraw its application due to disqualifying debt.

A new campaign, to receive 1,000 pledges of $1,000 for the next three years, was born.

Since then, the parish has appealed to community members, alumni and parishioners, who have responded with their support. Although many people cannot afford to give $1,000 gifts, everyone has been encouraged to give what they can.

“People were generous,” Fr. Shaji added. “We received 150-plus thousand dollars [in pledges]. So that is where we are, but that is not enough.”

Currently, St. Anthony has raised $144,011.35 of the $220,000 the school needs this year, and they have pledges of $51,010 for next year.

As the next finance committee meeting nears, there are mixed reactions in the parish.

“A lot of people are positive, and a lot of people feel angry, and other people, kind of neutral,” he said. “Still, people are working to find a way.”

Prayer is powerful, Fr. Shaji said, and the parish launched a prayer campaign to pair with the financial one. They are praying for a miracle.

“That’s where we are,” he added. “If you ask me, ‘Are we going to have a school next year?’ With the figures we have right now, I cannot say we will.”

Fr. Shaji is in his fifth year at St. Anthony, and the school was struggling even before his arrival. Still, he has hope.

“Miracles can take place, and it’s never too late to happen,” he said. “I am still hopeful, even though we are making meetings to make a final decision.”