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Woodmont Academy to close due to enrollment issues

Officials at Woodmont Academy, a once-bustling independent Catholic institution in Western Howard County, have decided to close the school later this spring due to declining enrollment.

The school, which operates under the spiritual guidance of the Legionaries of Christ, boasted 301 students as recently as two years ago. Woodmont had less than 160 students re-enrolled for next year, a number that families were told had to be met by April 5 to remain open in 2011-12.

Woodmont was once one of the fastest-growing schools in the archdiocese, so successful it moved its campus from Baltimore County in 2003 to Cooksville, where new buildings were erected.

Currently, there are 185 students in the school, including 19 graduating eighth-graders. Stephanie Blake, the school’s director of admissions and communications, told The Catholic Review that families were “emotional” about the closing.

“It was a tough experience,” Blake said. “They were very concerned about their children’s future.”

Blake said several factors led to enrollment decline, including the economy. Similar challenges have hampered enrollment in Catholic schools during the last decade. Including Woodmont, 33 schools in the archdiocese recognized as Catholic have closed since 2002, according to the Maryland Catholic Conference.

Many current families chose Woodmont because of its proximity to Mount Airy, Eldersburg and Sykesville, Blake said.

“We had a regional presence in a part of the archdiocese that was underserved,” she said.

Blake said parents are committed to sending their children to Catholic schools in Howard County, Frederick County and St. John School in Westminster.

“We’re appreciative of the archdiocese schools’ generosity through prayer, attention and the efforts they’ve made to reach out to our families,” Blake said.

The Legionaries of Christ have been a source of controversy in recent years, as revelations came to light about the personal misconduct of the worldwide order’s founder, Father Marcial Maciel.

Woodmont operated under the spiritual guidance of the Legionaries since it opened in 1995 on its original Woodstock campus. It used the Integral Formation method of education developed by the Legion.

“Speaking very honestly, the situation that has involved the Legion of Christ over the last few years has had an impact,” Blake said.

Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien, archbishop of Baltimore, gained international attention when he issued statements critical of the order’s finances and its formation of followers.

Prior to the announcement of the closure, Blake said the school had been working to “redefine our relationship with the Legion,” shifting to jurisdiction by an independent board of trustees. Woodmont still planned on subscribing to the order’s method of education when the leadership transition was to happen in July.

The Legion, which owns the Cooksville campus, supported the move, according to Blake. Woodmont would have become a tenant. According that plan, a full-time Legion chaplain would have remained on the campus.

“We were prepared to assume complete lay governorship of the school had we been able to sustain our enrollment and put ourselves in that position,” Blake said.

Blake said she didn’t know what plans the Legionaries of Christ had for the campus buildings.

Blake said the school’s defining legacy would be the “total commitment of on the part of the teachers and staff to formation of every child in the likeness and image of Christ.”

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