SPRINGDALE, AR – One of only two Catholic schools in Northwest Arkansas will be closing its doors.

Saint Raphael Catholic school in Springdale started its pre-school and pre-kindergarten programs back in 2004. It was so successful, the school expanded in 2007 to include Kindergarten through 3rd and added a grade level each year. But when the economy took a tumble shortly after, so did St. Raphael.

It was a struggle from the start.

“Pretty much since the inception of the school it’s been a loss every year,” says Father John Connell with St.Raphael Catholic Church.

Since 2007, the Catholic Elementary School in Springdale has dipped into savings.

“Each year those funds were a little bit lower,” says school principal Karen LaMendola.

Since then, LaMendola has struggled to make those ends meet.

“Our school, our families could not afford the amount that we need to have them pay to run a quality program. The church of course always helps and supports the school as all Catholic schools do,” she says.

But quickly, the church couldn’t handle the needs of the school either.

“Definitely my parish has been effected by the economic downturn. The parish collections also have taken a big hit,” Connell says.

A hit, Father Connell believes has most impacted his parish demographic.

“Our parish is 85-percent Latino and many of them cannot afford to have their children in the school,” says Connell.

An independant research firm shows 30-percent of Latinos in Arkansas are under the poverty line.

“They want to support but can’t support as much money as they used to be able to,” LaMendola says.

So now, come the end of May, Kindergarten through 7th grade classes will end for good.

“Nothing prepares you as a priest to close a school,” Connell says.

But the congregation knows closing the school is a sacrifice to keep its church afloat.

“You never know what God is going to provide in the future,” says LaMendola.

“We’re going to miss it,” says Connell.

The closure leaves only one private Catholic school open in Northwest Arkansas.

However, this isn’t the end of the school. The pre-school and pre-kindergarten programs will stay open and they hope to expand it to a year-round school for three and four year old’s.

The school will have two more major fundraisers this year to help alleviate the deficit. Click here for more information on how to help.

Reported by: KNWA-TV, Fayetteville

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