Felicians announce Ladywood High School to close at end of 2017-18

‘Difficult’ decision result of declining enrollment, financial outlook, Sisters say

LIVONIA — Citing declining enrollment for the better part of two decades, the Felician Sisters of North America announced Dec. 11 that Ladywood High School in Livonia will close at the end of the 2017-18 school year.

Sr. Felicity Marie Madigan, CSSF, dean of mission and ministry at Ladywood High School in Livonia, gives Communion to a student during an all-school Mass earlier this year. (Courtesy of Ladywood High School)

The “heart-wrenching” decision was made after careful evaluation of the 68-year-old school’s financial and enrollment trends, Sr. M. Alfonsa Van Overberghe, CSSF, chair of Ladywood’s board of trustees, said in a letter to parents, donors, faculty and alumni.

“In November, Felician leadership evaluated whether Ladywood had a viable and sustainable future, particularly from an operational perspective. Beginning with the early 2000s, enrollment has been on a downward trend with a 60 percent decline from 2005 to present day,” Sr. Van Overberghe wrote.

Today, the all-girls school serves just 169 students, including freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors.

Despite “valiant attempts” to curb expenses, increase fundraising and optimize resources, demographic shifts and fewer parish feeder schools have narrowed the pool of current and prospective students to unsustainable levels, said Andrea White and Sr. M. Barbara Ann Bosch, CSSF, president and CEO, respectively, of Felician Services, Inc., which conducted the analysis.

“Additionally, maintaining (Ladywood’s) high quality educational, spiritual, athletic and extracurricular programs would require cost-prohibitive tuition, which would be unaffordable,” the two said in a separate letter.

Ladywood’s full tuition for 2017-18 is $10,025, plus approximately $1,000 in fees.

As one of four Felician-sponsored high schools in North America, the decision to close the school rested entirely with the Felicians, whose provincial, Sr. M. Christopher Moore, CSSF, “told me this is one of the most difficult decisions the Sisters have made,” Sr. Van Overberghe emphasized.

“We are proud of our Felician legacy and our more than 6,000 accomplished alumnae. Our recent graduates continue to achieve great success. While at Ladywood, students perform above state and national levels,” Sr. Van Overberghe said. “Importantly, we have been forming women of faith to love, serve and witness in the world for decades.”

For the remainder of the school year, Ladywood’s focus will be on ensuring a smooth transition for students, faculty and staff, Sr. Van Overberge said. Ladywood students who enroll in another Catholic high school in southeast Michigan starting in the 2018-19 school year will receive a $500 annual Felician-sponsored scholarship, and the school will develop an outplacement and transition program for its 36 faculty and staff members.

Fr. Stephen Pullis, director of the Archdiocese of Detroit’s Department of Evangelization, Catechesis and Schools, said the archdiocese is ready to help Ladywood students looking to transition to another Catholic high school.

“A decision to close a religious order-sponsored school is difficult for all involved — those in leadership; the administrators, faculty and staff on site; and, the students, their parents, and supporters whose loyalty and dedication have been critical to the institution’s mission,” Fr. Pullis said. The Felician-sponsored school’s “commitment, presence, and graduates have contributed greatly to the Catholic fabric of the Archdiocese of Detroit.”

There are 24 other Catholic high schools in the Archdiocese of Detroit. The closest to Ladywood include St. Catherine of Siena Academy, an all-girls high school in Wixom; Mercy High School, an all-girls school in Farmington Hills; and Divine Child High School, a co-ed school in Dearborn.

There is never a good time to close a school, Sr. Van Overberge acknowledged, but Ladywood leadership is committed to walking with each member of the community to offer as much assistance as possible.

“We are confident that through prayer and the unwavering assistance of our faculty and staff, that all our young women will find a home at another Catholic school while forever keeping their fond Ladywood memories in their hearts,” Sr. Van Overberge said.

Athletic, academic and extracurricular activities will continue for the remainder of the year.

Other Livonia-based Felician education ministries, including Madonna University and the Montessori Center of Our Lady, will not be impacted. No decision has been made as to the future of the 25-acre Ladywood school property, which is part of the Felicians’ 325-acre Livonia complex.

Ladywood first opened in 1950 under the patronage of Our Lady of the Woods, a nod to the school’s wooded property. Enrollment peaked at 593 in 1964-65. Before then, the Felician Academy operated in Detroit from 1882 to 1967.

The school’s mascot is the Blazers, whose athletic teams compete in nearly 20 winter, spring and fall sports.

The Felician Sisters also sponsor high schools in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Mississauga, Ontario, among 27 total ministries in North America.

Despite the sad news, Sr. Van Overberge said Ladywood’s legacy will live on through the lives of its many alumnae and supporters.

“As disappointed as we all are, we must look toward the future and support our young women during this unsettling transition, relying on the Holy Spirit’s guidance and strength,” she said.