January 31, 2023
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MAX BUVAT

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Jackie Williams and Tylon Horton in the hallway of St. Mary’s Church. The school recently entered into a three-year lease to stay open.

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Less than three months after the archdiocese announced it was closing St. Mary’s High School, the school officially announced in a Thursday morning press conference that it would remain open.

President Mike England and officials from the Archdiocese of St. Louis initially confirmed the news. RFT on Tuesday that they had reached a three-year lease agreement. The school will be renamed St. Mary’s South Side Catholic High School with Marianist religious sponsorship.

About 50 people gathered at St. Mary’s Gym to announce the announcement on Thursday morning, including administrators, the press, staff, alumni and political leaders.

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“Through adversity comes opportunity and we have a great opportunity to build the school we have always dreamed of and hoped for,” England said during a 25-minute press conference.

click to enlarge Mike England in a green suit stands on a podium on a green floor against the backdrop of the green St. Mary's Cathedral.

BENJAMIN SIMON

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St. Mary’s President Mike England announces the school’s three-year lease with the Archdiocese of St. Louis during a press conference Thursday morning.

In late September, the archdiocese announced that it would withdraw support and close St. Mary’s as part of its “Everything New” consolidation and downsizing plan.

The 27-acre St. Mary’s Campus has served as a landmark in the Dutchtown community for decades. Founded in 1931 as South Side Catholic High School, it has produced approximately 13,000 alumni over the years. But student enrollment has steadily declined in recent years, most recently dropping from 270 in 2021 to 216 in 2022.

However, from the outset, St. Mary’s Church officials promised that it would fight to remain an independent Catholic school.

“We can’t leave, we’re too important,” England said. RFT in October. “We are too important to the young people we serve. And we’re too important to this area.”

In less than three months, the school has been able to make an unprecedented turnaround by raising over $3 million from five separate donors to keep the doors open. But the journey is far from over, as the school needs to raise around $10 million over the next five years.

In his latest cover story RFT documented the school’s response to the closure, with an inside look at how teachers, parents and students have dealt with uncertainty and how the school has rallied to stay open.

As St. Mary’s kicks off its new beginning, director Valerie Todd told RFT after the press conference that the school plans to introduce more opportunities for trading programs.

She expressed “excitement” and “relief” for herself, the students, and everyone in the St. Mary’s community that the school could move forward.

“[We’ve been] just waiting, waiting,” Todd says. “I’m just happy to continue what we’ve been doing for so many years.”

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