Sister Anne Donnelly, a retired English teacher at St. Patrick's Academy downtown, spends her weekday mornings packing class attendance records, schoolbooks full of notes on passages from the classics and good memories.
St. Patrick's principal Sister M. Eleanor Anne McCabe runs the 156-student school from an office brimming with packed boxes. Marble statues of the Virgin Mary will be carefully crated and hauled off any day now as St. Patrick's prepares to close after 84 years.
It is merging with St. Cecilia's Academy on Capitol Hill. In September St. Cecilia's will be renamed Holy Spirit.
The merger of St. Patrick's, a high school with primarily business courses, and St. Cecilia's, a high school that has stressed academics and preparation for college, has not sparked the student and parental opposition that have attended other recent Catholic school closings. But it has caused sadness at St. Patrick's ornate limestone building, long a landmark at 10th and G streets NW.
"Whenever you have to go somewhere new, it's hard," said St. Patrick's junior Shawn Chloe. "We spent a day over at St. Cecilia's to get to know each other, but I thought those girls tried too hard. See, our schools are rivals. We never deal with them . . . .
"It's automatic rivalry at something like a basketball game, but it carries over even after the basketball game," she continued. "A lot of people don't like the idea of merging; there's so much prejudice between the schools."
At St. Cecilia's, principal Sister Katherine Kase said, "Our students don't mind the other girls coming. There was a mixed reaction at first, but now they all seem to be real happy."
But some of St. Cecilia's 134 students are not so sure. "The biggest drawback with St. Patrick's is the overcrowding and the lack of personal attention from the teachers, because the classes might get bigger," said junior Felicia Wilson. "The people from our school are going have to accept that it's not their school anymore."
Sophomore Marsha Early added, "I'm not crazy about it. This school is small, and everyone knows everybody else. I won't know any of these girls, and I bet no one will try to make friends."
St. Patrick's is the latest in a series of Catholic schools to close or merge because of low enrollment. There are now 38 Catholic elementary and high schools in the city, compared to 41 a decade ago.
"It was the bishops in the diocese that decided to merge the school. We didn't make that decision," said Sister Eleanor Anne. "They projected enrollment over the next 10 years, and when they saw it going down, they tried to see what they could do. This just seems like the next logical phase."
Archdiocesan officials said they were undecided about a new use for the building after the last class leaves in June. According to Rufus S. Lusk, a real estate publishing company, the building is valued at $100,300 but the land because of its downtown location is valued at $800,000.
St. Patrick's popular business curriculum, along with two-thirds of its 20 teachers, will be moved to St. Cecilia's, said Sister Eleanor.
That program requires students to take three years of typing and other business classes and to pass the Civil Service examination and the government typing proficiency test for graduation. Many of the students work part-time after school because of cooperative arrangements between the school, government agencies and private companies, said Sister Eleanor.
"The whole business program will continue," she said. "Holy Spirt will have the business program with the same standards and an academic program. We have a good reputation for the business program and we don't want to lose that," she said.
In addition to leaving their school, St. Patrick's students are concerned about the longer commutes some of them will face to get to Capitol Hill and the loss of the convenient shopping in downtown.
St. Cecilia's, at 601 East Capitol St., is surrounded by a residential neighborhood.
Several of St. Patrick's students who live in upper Northwest and Maryland complained that their commuting time by bus and subway will nearly double to 90 minutes to their new school.
Pam Harley, a St. Patrick's junior, is "not excited" about the closing but does look forward to after-school programs at St. Cecilia's. "There's more opportunities for us there," she said. "They have a gospel choir; they do art and make ceramics and go swimming."
Yvonne Gray, a junior, was more downcast. "I'm really going to miss this school," she said. "I think it's unfair that we're not going to have our downtown location. I guess with a positive attitude it could work out, but it sure won't be easy."