Tonawanda News

June 13, 2014

St. Francis holding rally

By Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — St. Francis is holding a rally next week to raise awareness and funds for the school’s appeal, attorney Mark Saltarelli, who is leading the fight to keep the school open, said.

“We want to draw attention to the fact that we’ve appealed to the highest judicial branch of the Vatican and raise funds for the effort, “ Saltarelli said.

The event begins at 5 p.m. Thursday and will take place in the parking lot at the school, located at 70 Adam St. in Tonawanda. 

In January, Bishop Richard Malone announced that school and nine others would close as part of a diocese-wide reorganization and downsizing plan. St. Francis teachers, students and parishioners have been fighting the decision, and have cited the school’s $500,000 endowment and service to both Niagara County and Erie County students.

After the closures were announced, Malone rejected a petition that requested him to reconsider the closure of the school — the only Catholic elementary institution in the Twin Cities. 

Saltarelli then sent in an appeal to The Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education in February, which was rejected. The congregation wrote that the appeal cannot be accepted “and confirms the legitimacy of the bishop’s decision to close the schools as part of the diocesan plan for the viability and good distribution of Catholic schools of the diocese.” 

Supporters have now sent in an appeal to the next level, the Apostolic Signatura. 

“If the bishop and the Catholic Education Department think this is over they are sadly mistaken. They do not know me very well. I will not tolerate unjust decisions based on bad data, poor geography and no planning,” Saltarelli said.  

Saltarelli has hired Canon Law Professionals, who will appoint an advocate for the case. 

“The people who helped us draw up the appeal said we should hear within two months once the body accepts the appeal,” Saltarelli said.

More funds are necessary for this step of the appeal, and supporters of the school are hoping that the rally will bring in money for the effort. The event will include music, student performances and food, which was donated by the Knights of Columbus. Saltarelli and city council members will speak at the event. 

Although supporters of the school had discussed using the endowment to keep the school open privately, Saltarelli said that option is no longer possible. The appeal is the school’s last hope. 

“The cost is too prohibitive,” he said. “We have one of the lowest tuition rates right now, and it would defeat the purpose, because tuition would have go up. It won’t be kept open privately, this is it.” 

Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000 ext. 4150, or follow her on Twitter @JessicaLBagley.