LAPORTE | Teachers on Thursday walked away for the last time from St. Joseph School, which is closing after 152 years in LaPorte.
Financial difficulties from a more than 60 percent decline in enrollment the last decade were cited in October when the decision was made to close the private Catholic school at 101 C St.
Students had their final day in school Wednesday marked by ceremonies and visits by former students — some from as far away as New York.
Butterflies were released just before the final bell rang at the K-5 school to symbolize a new beginning for students and faculty.
"Like the families of our students, we're starting fresh and landing where God tells us," said St. Joseph School Principal Fonda Mauch.
According to school officials, efforts were made to stop diminishing enrollment and several years ago grades six through eight were dropped to cut expenses.
Nothing worked to keep the school open, not even an attempt by parents to raise money to supplement the school's operating budget.
Closing the school was recommended by the Parish Pastoral Council and upheld by Bishop Dale Melczek of the Gary Diocese.
Two other local Catholic schools — St. Bridget Catholic School in Hobart and St. Edward School in Lowell — also are closed as of this school year because of financial constraints.
"We have done everything we could to keep it open," said St. Joseph School parent Mary Beth Roberts, who is sending her 9-year-old daughter in the fall to St. Stanislaus School in Michigan City. Roberts' 12-year-old son started attending sixth grade there.
"It's pretty devastating," Roberts said.
She said there was a wide range of emotions shown by everyone attending the closing ceremonies.
"It was a really tough day. It was tough getting through it," Roberts said.
Mauch said there's both sadness and joy but the school closing represents an opportunity for everyone to find out what the next chapter holds.
She said some teachers are contemplating retiring.
"It was a wonderful way to close; 152 years is a long time," Mauch said.