Multiple sources told MSG Varsity that St. Patrick, the oldest parochial high school in New Jersey which housed one of the most storied basketball programs in the United States over the last two decades, will close at the end of the year.
This shocking news comes during a turbulent time in which the financial backing of Catholic education in the tri-state area has grown increasingly unstable.
"This is a sad day for the St. Patrick community," school principal Joe Picaro said. "It's sad for the alumni, parents, students and faculty."
St. Patrick, located in Elizabeth, is the third big-time basketball school in the last three years to announce its folding. Paterson Catholic closed in 2010, and Rice of New York City closed last summer due to a mountain of financial issues.
“The basketball landscape has changed dramatically over the last three years. Basketball as we knew it for the last 20 years has changed,” MSG Varsity’s Mike Quick said. “St. Patrick had the ability to make this time of year very special. It’s a big hit.”
For the last few years, it had been rumored the school would close its doors or merge with St. Mary. According to one source, the school and the archdiocese met in the fall about the pending issues. The two parties also met Friday, when the final verdict was confirmed.
"It's heart-wrenching. It hurts," St. Patrick athletic director Red Migliore said. "I've been through a lot in my life, and I'll be 76 in July, so I've been around, but this tests your faith."
The Celtics’ boys basketball program had risen to the top of the high school landscape over the last 23 years under the direction of former coach Kevin Boyle, the reigning National Coach of the Year.
Boyle had developed several future NBA players, including former Knick Al Harrington, Samuel Dalembert, Derrick Caracter and, most recently, Kyrie Irving, who was selected No. 1 overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2011 NBA Draft.
He also produced over 100 Division I student-athletes, such as Shaheen Holloway (Seton Hall), Mike Nardi (Villanova), Grant Billmeier (Seton Hall), Corey Fisher (Villanova) and Dexter Strickland (North Carolina). Kentucky’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Western Kentucky’s Derrick Gordon – also St. Patrick alumni -- are two current freshmen making waves at the NCAA level.
"It's definitely a real blow to the athletic community," MSG Varsity veteran reporter Mike Kinney said. "St. Patrick has been a staple in high school basketball for the last 20 years, but unfortunately it's a reflection of the times. Unfortunately, it's not as surprising as it should be. It's the way things are for small parochial schools.
"St. Patrick served the community well, not just athletically."
In 2010-11, St. Patrick spent most of the winter atop the USA Today Super 25 rankings, but fell to rival St. Anthony in the national championship game last March at the Rutgers Athletic Center.
The highly magnified season was documented in an HBO documentary “Prayer for a Perfect Season”, which aired in October 2011, and a recently published book, Celtic Pride: How Coach Kevin Boyle Took St. Patrick to the Top of High School Basketball.
Following the conclusion of the campaign, Boyle left St. Patrick after 23 years to take the head coaching job at Montverde Academy, a boarding school located just outside Orlando, Fla. The 48-year-old won five Tournament of Champions titles with the Celtics and was named the USA Today Coach of the Year in 2007.
Before the Montverde Academy offer was on the table, Boyle once spoke about his fear that St. Patrick might possibly be closing.
"You have concerns. Our school, like a lot of Catholic schools, has had to do a lot of fundraising and different types of things to survive [financially]... It's an issue everybody thinks about,” Boyle told MSG Varsity last February.
Chris Chavannes took over as head coach for this season and helped the Celtics maintain their position as one of the Garden State’s top teams despite losing all but one player from last year’s talent-laden roster.
The first St. Patrick school was established in 1868 by Fr. Martin Gessner and a staff of Sisters of Charity. Twenty years later, an even larger school was erected, but as the parish continued to grow, more construction took place. By 1907, the current three-story building at 221 Court Street was constructed and the institution began a prolonged period of providing education to students from across New Jersey and New York.
"We're a very small school," Picaro said in the HBO documentary, produced by Blowback Productions. "We have a lot of students that come in from inner-city atmospheres and their backgrounds may be that they're below grade level, and we get them up to grade level and beyond."
Picaro also once said, “We have kids who come in as underachievers and leave as overachievers. The success of the people here is amazing.”
Contact Brian Fitzsimmons at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @FitzWriter