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A Farewell Prayer for La Salle; a Pledge to Young Catholics

At a tearful service and a vow to continue educating in the Catholic tradition; St. Pius students impacted.

For a century now, thousands of Roman Catholic children have been given religious instruction at the corner of Conklin and Cherry streets in Farmingdale.

It began in 1897 at and, for the past 20 years, continued as , where 7-year-olds practiced for their First Holy Communion, where they memorized the solemn words of the Act of Contrition.

Thousands more studied their faith here, preparing for their Confirmation, learning about the Saints and Martyrs, understanding what it really means to be a Roman Catholic.

Tuesday night, educators and religious leaders vowed that the education of young Catholic boys and girls would continue unabated. La Salle Regional will close its doors this week; the teachings of Jesus and His followers will go on.

At a poignant prayer service attended by about 200 people Tuesday night, educators vowed to continue the Catholic tradition of teaching, the roots of which date to the collapse of the Roman Empire. While the school's demise was tearful, Tuesday night's farewell message was filled with hope.

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told parents, faculty and students: "Whether your futures lie ahead within a Catholic or public institution, a Catholic education is in your hands."

Quoting a parish member, Ms. Bendish said. "Let us not mourn for what we have had, but let us rejoice in what we have."

A young student read from St. Paul's Letter to the Romans: "...I shall visit you," it says in part. "I am sure that, when I do come to you, I shall come with the fullest blessing of Christ."

The assembly rose and recited "The Lord's Prayer" together.

The lights went down and what followed was a slide show of memories, pictures of Farmingdale's past and the children of Long Island's future, set to the backdrop of Phil Collins' "You'll Be In My Heart."

There were grainy photos of girls in blue plaid dresses, boys in white shirts and skinny ties. Others wore white Communion dresses, while some newer shots showed kids picking pumpkins. Images flashed of smiling faculty in funny hats and teams of students in tie-dye shirts. As each new photo appeared on the screen, cheers went up for beloved teachers or classrooms of buddies.

Tears were wiped as the lights returned. A reception followed, where people said their goodbyes and children ran around St. Kilian's Auditorum, a football-length all-purpose room that doubled as gym and theater. A simple wooden cross adorned the left side of the stage.

Declining enrollment – a phenomenon in both private and public schools on Long Island – is to blame. La Salle, a K-8th grade regional school, shrunk from about 800 students 20 years ago to about 200 now, said the Rev. St. Kilian's pastor.

La Salle employed about two dozen faculty and staff members, most of which will be absorbed in other area Catholic schools, Flynn said. Parents still have a variety of Catholic school options.

The announced in December its decision to close La Salle and five other schools, citing declining enrollment. In fact, La Salle was itself the product of a merger. In the last decade, a previous campus in Bethpage was merged into the Farmingdale school.

The elementary school has been serving four nearby Catholic parish communities for about 20 years, including , St. Martin of Tours in Bethpage, St. Kilian in Farmingdale and St. James in Seaford. The four parish schools, like their public counterparts, saw dramatic enrollment declines beginning in the late 1980s.

Wednesday marks the final day of classes. Even La Salle's website is slated to disappear in July.

"I'm sad. I'm going to miss the children," Monsignor Flynn said. "But they'll adjust....They will adjust. Catholic education will go on."





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