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  • Writer's pictureDJ Mara

Stronger Together: The Merger of Saint Peter-Marian and Holy Name High Schools

On December 18, 2019, a heartbreaking announcement shocked citizens throughout Worcester County: the two largest Catholic high schools in the Diocese of Worcester would be merging. In a letter to families, also paraphrased in a widely circulated Telegram and Gazette article, Superintendent David Perda made the announcement that many did not want to hear: Saint Peter-Marian High School and Holy Name High School are to merge. In the letter, Perda laid out the rationale, as well as next steps pertaining to the merger. Negative enrollment trends at both existing schools were the main cause to initiate the merge. In retrospect, however, the bonding between the two former school communities would prove to be the greatest challenge.

The Diocese of Worcester is no stranger to mergers, especially within its high schools. The foundation of Saint Peter-Marian was based on a merger, with the combination of Marian and Saint Peter’s High Schools at one campus in Worcester. In the case of Holy Name, it was originally based at a campus at the Holy Name Parish in Worcester. However, in 1967, Holy Name High School was relocated to Granite Street in Worcester, the current site of Saint Paul Diocesan Jr./Sr. High School—the merged school between Saint Peter-Marian and Holy Name. Additionally, announced in 2020, St. Stephen School and Saint Mary’s Schools—all in Worcester—were also closed due to widespread enrollment declines.

To merge two high schools under any circumstances is a daunting task. Where most high school mergers occur over a span of two to three years, the merger pertaining to Saint Peter-Marian and Holy Name was to be done in nine months.

In January 2020, a Student Life Steering Committee was formed, under the leadership of Mr. Timothy St. John (Assistant Principal from Saint Peter-Marian) and Ms. Sandra Pollette (Assistant Principal from Holy Name). The two currently work at Saint Paul, Mr. St. John as the Assistant Principal of Student Life, and Ms. Pollette as Assistant Principal of Ministry. The Student Life Steering Committee composed of students from grades 7-12 from both Saint Peter-Marian and Holy Name. Additionally, the committee was tasked with brainstorming and giving feedback on a wide variety of components of the merger—school name, colors, mascot, clubs, as well as community building events between both student bodies.

If a high school merger was not enough of a curveball, the COVID-19 pandemic certainly complicated every aspect of the merger before the initial opening of Saint Paul. Retreats, prayer services, team-building exercises, bonding opportunities for rival sports teams and corresponding clubs, were all put on hold due to the fact that both schools were remote through the end of the school year.

The sudden cease from all merger-related activities created added uncertainty, especially in the minds of students. However, students and families were kept up to date through a series of email blasts and letters from the Catholic Schools Office at the Diocese of Worcester.

  • On February 14th, 2020, school leadership was announced, including Head of School, Assistant Principals, and Athletic Director.

  • On March 5th, 2020, the school name—Saint Paul Diocesan Jr./Sr. High School—was announced. Additionally, it was announced that Saint Paul would be at the former site of Holy Name High School.

  • On March 20th, 2020, Academic Department Chairs were announced.

  • On April 14th, 2020, the larger Faculty of Saint Paul was announced.

  • On April 17th, 2020, the Fall Coaches and Class Deans were announced.

  • On May 5th, 2020, the school colors, seal, and motto were announced.

  • On May 8th, 2020, the Winter and Spring Coaches were announced.

  • On May 28th, 2020, the school website and social media accounts were rolled out.

However, the most pertinent announcement from the administration came on August 10th, 2020, where it was relayed to families that Saint Paul would open under a hybrid-learning format, due to lingering COVID-19 restrictions. In the minds of many students and families, this came off as the greatest victory—all of our patience, persistence, and grit had finally paid off. We would be attending school in a partial in-person capacity.

Since Saint Paul was a new school, each grade had its own orientation during the second week of September. From that point, two cohorts would be in the building each week. Cohort A was in-person on Monday and Tuesday, and Cohort B was in-person on Thursday and Friday. Additionally, all students met on Zoom meetings each Wednesday. Due to a rise in isolated COVID-19 cases at Saint Paul, the school is currently under a temporary remote learning model through January 11th, 2021.

Although not a perfect model, the community building began to commence in a COVID-friendly way. Clubs began to form, friend groups began to mesh together, and the Saint Paul identity began to be created.

In addition to being full-time teachers at Saint Paul, Ms. Karen Loin and Mr. John Pace serve as Class Deans at Saint Paul—Ms. Loin for grades 7-9, and Mr. Pace for grades 10-12. Their main role is to assist Mr. St. John in facilitating the daily student life at Saint Paul.

“The combined leadership and faculty selected was excellent and plans for re-opening showed great promise for our work both inside and outside of the classroom,” said Pace. “I look forward to the days, in the near future, I hope, where our classrooms are full, our auditorium rings with the sounds of performances again, and our gym and playing fields are alive with competition and school spirit.”

“Bringing our two former school communities begins in the classroom,” remarked Loin. “As the danger begins to ease and we are able to safely hold more school related events and activities, many friendships and the blessings they bring to our school and our lives will only continue to grow”

Kylie Barbour, a junior at Saint Paul, currently serves as a Junior Co-Class President, as she was Class President at Holy Name.

“When I first heard the news of the merger, I was immediately worried and sad, wrote Barbour. “However, I knew that the students and teachers would do everything to make the new school successful. Something that I hope will improve is the implementation of traditions form both former schools. Once COVID-19 subsides, I believe it is imperative that we have pep rallies, dances, and school events that stem from the traditions of both former schools.”

Dominic Porcaro, a senior at Saint Paul, currently serves as a Senior Co-Class President, since he was Class President at Holy Name.

“As a Co-Class President and as a member of the newly formed student council, our main priority is finding ways to create COVID-safe events to being student life alive, and to create a school identity,” remarked Porcaro. “After talking to multiple teachers, as well, I have found that there is much enthusiasm to hold many school events once COVID restrictions are lifted.”

Although the student body and faculty of Saint Paul have made momentous strides so far this school year, the merger process is far from over. Students from one cohort have not met the other half of the student body, school events have not been able to occur due to the pandemic, and school spirit needs more positive reinforcement. However, once COVID-19 subsides after a widespread vaccine rollout, the merger will be behind us, and the full Saint Paul identity will be kindled and formed.

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