Students at Archbishop O’Hara, a Catholic high school in South Kansas City, are taking their final exams this week. After 50 years in operation, Friday will be the last last day of school. The Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese will open St. Michaels The Archangel Catholic High School in Lee's Summit in the fall.
"I'm sad for the kids who don't get to experience O'Hara," says Sydney White, a 2013 graduate. "I've had some of the best experiences in these halls."
The shuttering of O’Hara follows a trend of shrinking enrollment and closings at Catholic high schools across the country, especially in cities. Still, many connected with the school are upset about the closing of O’Hara.
Jim Rowland is a former city council member. He and his wife both went to O'Hara and sent their two sons there. Over the years, Rowland has served as the booster club president and worked as a baseball coach. He was a board member when it was announced that O'Hara would close, but when he was asked to be on the steering committee for the new school, he deferred.
"I have strong reasons for why I don't think the school should close," says Rowland. "O’Hara was an anchor for that part of Kansas City and a part of the city that needs anchors ... when a neighborhood or community needs an institution that solidifies it, that’s kind of like a rock."
This idea of being an anchor in South Kansas City is significant to Rowland. He says that the importance of O'Hara goes beyond his personal attachment to his alma mater. The school was rooted in the Lasallian tradition, which emphasizes making education accessible. The new school will have no affiliation with the Lasallian tradition.
"It's heartbreaking to me," says Rowland. "The Lasallian education focused on inspiring people, working with marginalized, working with poor, with people who really needed education. I have a firm foundation of social justice because of it, it led me to the public service life I chose."
Rowland not the only person who feels that the community is losing something with the closing.
""I think they did a lot of good in this area," says South Kansas City resident Mark Beecher. Beecher sent his son to O'Hara, and thinks the community will lose something important with the closing of the school. "A lot of people move from other districts for better opportunities for their child, and that’s what it’s all about, to help your child be better than you were," Beecher says.
While the general sentiment around the closing is nostalgic, many feel that the closing was a difficult but necessary step for the Diocese. Joe Dimarco is another O’Hara alumnus. He sent both of his sons to O’Hara and his youngest will attend St. Michael’s next year.
"At first I was a little mad that my school was closing," Dimarco says. "But people that weren’t close to O’Hara don’t realize what’s been going on lately, don’t realize enrollment is down, don’t realize the problems they’ve been having. I think O’Hara didn’t do a great job of asking for support, but people are bitter because they’ve seen decisions being made that they don't understand because they’re at a distance, and it hurts their feelings."
Dimarco hopes that, going forward, O'Hara alumni can put negative feelings aside and build a new sense of community at St. Michael's.
"My class is my alma mater. That's what I think of when I think of O'Hara. I don't think of the building," Dimarco says.
Junior Kendall Pennyweight is also working on transferring her feelings to a new school.
"We really are a big family and we just want to make sure that carries over and our huge love of god is carried over as well," Pennyweight says.
Caitlin Troutman is an intern at KCUR 89.3