Archdiocese plans to close Murphy High

Times Staff Writers

Citing financial constraints in part caused by its massive settlement with victims of the priest sex-abuse scandal, the Los Angeles Archdiocese is closing Daniel Murphy Catholic High School, a boys academy in the Fairfax District.

The school, built in the 1950s on the site of a former seminary, has been losing enrollment for more than a decade, said archdiocese spokesman Tod Tamberg. He said it was too soon to speculate about what might replace the school at the 2 1/2 -acre site.

The closure was the second blow to the venerable campus, which was rocked last year when the former dean of students pleaded not guilty to numerous counts of child molestation.


Still, parents and students were stunned by the decision, and praised the school as highly disciplined and culturally diverse.

“It’s very sad to see it shut down,” said parent Joseph Valerio, whose son, James, is a senior.

The archdiocese in July announced a record $660-million settlement with the victims of hundreds of clergy abuse cases. At least $250 million and up to $373 million of the total will be paid directly by the archdiocese, with the rest coming from insurers and various religious orders.

The archdiocese has said it will sell up to 50 non-parish properties, including its administrative headquarters on Wilshire Boulevard, to cover the bill. The most controversial move, so far, is the decision to sell a small convent in Santa Barbara, forcing several nuns to find other quarters.

The archdiocese decided to close the school at the end of the current academic year because the budget was so tight that administrators would have had to cut back on curriculum in order to stay open, Tamberg said.

The archdiocese will consider what to do with the site some time next year, he said, and promised that all of the teachers and students would be settled in new schools.

Parents, students and teachers got the bad news Friday, in the form of a letter from the archdiocese.

Most reacted with shock, said Rod Freer, whose son, Spencer, is a sophomore at the school.

Freer said his son called in the middle of the school day to tell him what was happening.

“He laid out the facts and told me how upset everybody was,” said Freer, who hopes to organize parents to fight the decision. “It was quite a shock for all the students and the teachers.”

A parent meeting is scheduled for tonight, Freer said, and he anticipates that the closure will be a major topic of discussion.

He said the family hopes to place Spencer at another Catholic school, but that most are more expensive than Daniel Murphy, which Tamberg of the archdiocese said cost $5,100 a year.

The archdiocese said Monday that officials would meet with the students and their parents, and offer financial aid to those whose tuition is going up.

All told, 177 students will need to move to other schools, according to Tamberg, because the rest will graduate at the end of this year.

He said there is room at other schools, including St. Bernard, in Playa del Rey, which has also been in decline and has room for 400 students, and Salesian in Boyle Heights, which can accommodate 120 additional students.

Junior Vincent Ramos, who made close friends during the three years he has attended Daniel Murphy, said he was concerned that he would be placed on a separate campus from his buddies.

“We’re going to try to go to the same school, but who knows what will happen,” he said.

This is not the first time the archdiocese has closed a school because of declining enrollment. Last year, the historic Queen of Angels campus was closed after enrollment dropped to 147.

By then, the archdiocese had been forced to cut most clubs and electives -- including music -- at the all-girls school, Tamberg said.

“I’d never seen anything that drastically cut at a Catholic high school,” said Tamberg, who taught in Catholic high schools in Southern California and the Virgin Islands before taking up his post as spokesman for the archdiocese.

“Daniel Murphy was heading in that direction -- and we didn’t want to do that.”