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Merger of Catholic Academy of West Buffalo and Our Lady of Black Rock will strengthen Catholic education in Buffalo

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Students of Catholic Academy of West Buffalo show their welcoming spirit. Photo by Joe Cascio Photography

In order to ensure solid Catholic education will remain in the core of Buffalo, Our Lady of Black Rock School will merge with Catholic Academy of West Buffalo, bringing 300 students under one roof on Delaware Avenue this fall. Declining enrollment, rising tuition costs, a decline in school-aged population, rising operating costs, diocesan bankruptcy, and the Covid-19 pandemic were all contributing factors to the decision made in early March. 

Discussions about the two schools joining together started eight months earlier when a meeting brought the principals, canonical administrators and boards of the two schools together with Paul Bauer, co-founder of the BISON Fund, and Joan Thomas, interim director of Catholic Schools, to determine if there was a need to dialogue about the possibility of a collaboration between the two schools.

“This was a grassroots from the bottom up effort, because both boards realized they could not function beyond this year without each other. They just don’t have the money,” said Thomas. “It was done with everyone’s input, with everybody’s ability to say their minds, and with everybody’s understanding that if we didn’t do this both schools would close.”

Both schools had been operating in the black, but were losing their large base of immigrant and refugee enrollment due to current immigration policies. When the Diocese of Buffalo cut funding due to bankruptcy, it became clear that neither school could survive much longer on their own.

An architectural study showed that Catholic Academy of West Buffalo can hold 440 students and needs little retrofitting to support the unification. OLBR can hold half the students and is 25 years older. Catholic Academy appeared to be the clear choice for the campus.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for our families to be able to continue their child’s Catholic education in a diverse, faith-based community where the learning needs of all students will be met,” said Eadie of the merger.

Sister Gail agrees, saying Catholic Academy of West Buffalo draws students from downtown, the East Side, the West Side and Elmwood Village. With it, “there would be nothing between South Park Avenue and St. Joe’s on Main, with the exception of Nardin and St. Mark’s, which are unobtainable for our families.”

A new principal will be hired and start this fall. OLBR Principal Martha Eadie already has plans to lead St. Peter’s School in Lewiston. Sister Gail Glenn, SSJ, who has served as principal of Catholic Academy since it opened in 1985, will become principal emeritus and serve as an on-sight resource.

The regional schools share similar backgrounds and student bodies. Both were formed by the merger of parish schools – OLBR in 1983, and Catholic Academy in 1985. Both also serve a diverse population that includes immigrants and refugees who have limited English skills. About two-thirds receive free or reduced lunches. Other students are the children ofdoctors and lawyers who want their kids to experience a diverse school.

“We have a wide variety of people here. Yes, I have many immigrants. I have Burmese and Africans,” said Sister Gail. “But I also have people who made good solid choices about wanting their children raised in the real world. And that is in a multicultural atmosphere. We’re a multicultural school. Our diversity has always been our hallmark.”

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