Rutland, Vermont - March 31, 2011
Signs that read 'I love it here' surround Mount Saint Joseph School in Rutland, but in years past there was a lot more love to go around.
"It was a great place, we had at the time about 160 kids in the school and the main thing about going to MSJ was the community spirit and community feel," said Tom Valente, an MSJ alumnus.
Now graduating classes are closer to 20; it's a decline that's been felt statewide. In 1999, Vermont's total Catholic school enrollment totaled almost 3,500. In 2006, it was down to just over 2,500. And today it's hovering around 2,200. School officials blame a decreased population, the economy and tuition costs.
"Years ago in Rutland you had families with four kids whose kids would go to MSJ and you would have classes of 100," Valente said.
MSJ Principal Paulo Zancanaro says when Burlington's St. Joseph Elementary closed this summer, the pain was felt by each of Vermont's 14 Catholic schools.
"Rutland would have a great void if MSJ left because it's part of the conversation, it's part of having options," Zancanaro said.
Zancanaro says he believes in the Catholic school system. Despite the downturn statewide, MSJ is ahead of where it was last year.
"There was a period of time when enrollment was higher, when enrollment was down and now we're going in the opposite direction," Zancanaro said.
Zancanaro says it's a blessing to see the school system works for some students.
"One boy says he never realized how important all of the questions about faith and values, and as he said we really critically get into stuff here," he said.
While MSJ's enrollment is on the rise, the other 13 schools pray that faith in the Catholic school system can keep them afloat.
School officials have confirmed 79 students will attend MSJ next year, this time last year they had only confirmed a little less than 60 students. They say these numbers show positive growth and should allow them to hit their goal of triple digit enrollment.
Susie Steimle - WCAX News