St. Mary’s Catholic School closing after 113 years due to financial difficulties

St. Mary's Catholic School closing after 113 years due to financial difficulties

LAWTON, Okla. (TNN) - A Lawton Catholic School that has been open for more than a century will be closing its doors at the end of this school year.

On Thursday night, Elizabeth Fabrega said she and her husband had to sit down and tell their two kids that the school they love is closing.

"When we moved to Lawton, we didn’t know anybody. So, getting settled at St. Mary’s, it felt like a family. The teachers and staff, we felt like they loved our kids like we do. That’s the hardest part. I know there’s a lot of great schools in Lawton and we’re going to find one that we love and loves us, but right now it’s saying goodbye. It’s knowing all the teachers that have been working so hard in the quarantine to keep us up with the activities, what are they going to do,” Fabrega said.

Fabrega’s kids, eight-year-old Benjamin and seven-year-old Caroline, said there’s plenty they’ll miss about St. Mary’s.

“I liked it because every morning in the gym our principal read us a page or two from the bible and we said prayers to God,” Caroline said.

”I liked the teachers and I liked gym class. What I’m never going to forget is every morning when Mr. Melby says good morning children of God,” Benjamin said.

The school is a staple in the Lawton community, having been open for 113 years. Very Reverend Brian Buettner says it’s been a special place for so many kids but has been having financial problems for decades.

"Thankfully we received a very generous gift from Jesse Dunbar, she left a large estate for us that served as an endowment for the school. Over the last 10 years, we’ve gotten to the point where we had to dip into that principal and just start chipping it away,” Buettner said.

Buettner said that endowment was beginning to run low and he anticipated the school having one more year to try to turn things around.

"Then the coronavirus hit us and the stock market plunged and all of that endowment was in stocks so basically the one safety net we had to be able to cover our expenses disappeared,” Buettner said.

Despite the financial problems, Buettner said closing the school’s doors is tough.

"I think all of our families and our teachers and our students know how much I love St. Mary’s and love them. My hope is that as we face this very difficult situation and scenario around us, that they remember they are loved and cared about and we’re not abandoning them. We’re right there with them along the way, just as heartbroken as they are, we’re heartbroken as well,” Buettner said.

Buettner said they’re going to have somebody on staff all summer long to help their students and teachers find the schools they’ll be attending or working at next year.

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