Fairfax County's newest Catholic school was dedicated Tuesday at a ceremony attended by Bishop John Richard Keating of the Diocese of Arlington. The Corpus Christi School, the first Catholic elementary school in Fairfax to be formed from a merger of two schools, will open to students next week.

Corpus Christi, a consolidation of the St. Philip and St. Anthony schools, is split between two campuses. The St. Philip campus houses the elementary school, and the St. Anthony campus houses the early childhood center.

The schools merged to avoid the possibility of closing in the face of declining enrollments and loss of staff. Both schools "had decreases in enrollment in past years," said St. Philip parent Julie Hayden, a member of the marketing committee for the new school. Also, because of a decline in numbers, the order of the Sisters of St. Joseph informed St. Philip School that it would be unable to continue staffing the school.

According to Hayden, both schools wrote to the diocese asking for help. The diocese recommended that they merge. "The diocese brought the schools together. We coordinated the {merger} study committees and made sure they were looking at the same issues," said Marie Powell, the diocesan superintendent of schools.

"The committee looked at the resources of the two schools, and the plan {to merge} was the result," Hayden said.

There was some apprehension over the merger on the part of several parents, according to the new principal, George Chiplock. "Elementary schools are like neighborhood schools, and when something happens to them there is a sense of loss . . . . But I have no doubts about the program. It is going to succeed," he said.

"The pastors are farsighted enough and believe strongly in Catholic education {so that} rather than closing both schools" they chose to combine the two, Chiplock said.

"The merger is the best means of providing Catholic education to the members of the St. Philip and St. Anthony parishes," Powell said, stressing the the cultural diversity that the combination will bring. It is "very encouraging" and a "sign for the future," she added.

Chiplock, who spent 23 years at Archbishop Carroll High School in the District, itself an amalgamation of five Catholic schools, "has experience melding together diverse populations," Powell said.

"It is a lot tougher to make a decision and to build up courage to reorganize existing institutions than to create a new one," said Keating, who approved the plan earlier this year. He called the new school a "magnificent achievement."

There are 270 students enrolled in grades one through eight and 70 enrolled in the early childhood center, a day-care center, preschool and kindergarten. Registration will continue through next week.