Mater Dei Prep Announces it Will Close for Good at the End of the School Year
In its 50th year of existence, Mater Dei Prep High School announced Tuesday that the school will be closing for good at the end of the current school year because of financial difficulties.
An official announcement was released on Tuesday afternoon by Father Jeff Kegley, the pastor of St. Mary's Parish in Middletown that includes Mater Dei Prep.
"Over the many years, Mater Dei Prep has been running large financial deficits and enrollment numbers have not stabilized to the point of sufficiently supporting the school’s viability,'' Kegley wrote. "It had been the hope of the Parish Finance Council and myself that these trends could be reversed. However, the 2014-2015 projected loss is close to one million dollars. Our parish and diocesan assistance, fundraising and tuition can no longer meet the school’s financial obligation. I want to assure you that the next year’s closure will not affect the current school year. Classes and activities will continue until the end of June as planned."
Mater Dei's sister school, St. Mary Elementary School, will remain open. Mater Dei, located in Middletown, was founded in the 1964-65 school year. Its football team turned in its most successful season since 1999 with an eight-win campaign behind record-setting All-Shore quarterback Christian Palmer this fall and it has been consistently competitive in Class B Central across all sports on the boys and girls side, particularly softball under Hall of Fame coach Jeanne Dickinson, and recently won a national championship in cheerleading.
"I really didn't believe it at first,'' said Palmer, whose father, Craig, is the principal. "It was hard. I didn't know how to take it at first.
"It's really a tragedy. I hope we can find some way to keep it open. We're going to do everything we can. It really is a giant family."
The students have started a hashtag on Twitter, #SavetheSeraphs, to try to find a way to keep the school's doors open by closing the financial gap. They also have started an online donation page to raise money.
Principal Craig Palmer, athletic director Dennis Tobin and football coach Steve Sciarappa were not immediately available for comment.
"It's like finding out your home is gone,'' said Pinelands head boys basketball coach John Tierney, a Mater Dei graduate who played multiple sports for the Seraphs in the 1990s. "I always could relate to anything the athletes at Mater Dei were going through because I went through it myself. Whenever I came back from college, the first place I would stop was Mater Dei. I wanted my daughter to go there, and now it's gone.''
Tierney played under former football coach Craig Cicardo, who was a fixture at Mater Dei as a coach, teacher and athletic director from 1990-99. He led the Seraphs' football team to a state final appearance in 1999, their only one in school history.
"I'm crushed,'' Cicardo said. "I love the place. I met and worked with such great people there.''
Pat Riddell, who is a 1988 Mater Dei Prep, has been a basketball and baseball coach for 19 years, including the last 11 as the head baseball coach.
"It was pretty much a shocker this afternoon,'' Riddell said. "I was glad I had a freshman basketball game to go to so it took my mind off it for a little while. It's pretty much been my home. I'm a year-round guy on campus, so this is just really tough."
Mater Dei has produced luminaries like Richie Williams, who played Major League Soccer for eight seasons, and Billy Devaney, a former general manager of the St. Louis Rams as well as his brothers, current Holmdel boys basketball coach Sean Devaney and longtime St. Rose boys basketball coach Dennis Devaney. Middletown North boys basketball coach Mike Iasparro is also a former star for the Seraphs. Outside of sports, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams is also a Mater Dei graduate.