Joe Oberting brought deep connections to Napa’s St. John the Baptist Catholic School when he became its principal two years ago. His three children went to school there, and his family has attended church at St. John for more than 20 years.

Oberting knew the school, in operation since 1912, had struggled with declining enrollment. But things were improving — until the coronavirus pandemic hit in mid-March. Soon thereafter, as county officials talked of extended shelter-in-place orders, Oberting confided to one colleague, “This is going to kill us.”

And that’s what happened.

St. John school closed permanently this week, ending 108 years of providing Catholic education to a diverse range of families. The pandemic delivered the final blow, squashing fundraising and new enrollment and wiping out a $100,000 parish subsidy.

The closure reflects a wider nationwide trend of private schools struggling to survive the crisis. Across the country, 51 schools have announced they will close — per the Cato Institute, a libertarian public policy organization in Washington, D.C. — but that number could rise significantly this summer.

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The coronavirus pandemic has dealt severe financial blows to Bay Area retreat centers, putting some of them in danger of closing. 

After nearly five months without any income, St. Clare’s Retreat Center, a mission of the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Sorrows, is contemplating the end of its half-century long mission of providing spiritual peace and healing.

“The retreat house has very small margins. What we bring in is what we pay out,” Franciscan Sister Christine Marie Chauvel of St. Clare’s Retreat House said. 

Now the sisters are looking to raise almost $250,000 in order to stay open. Sister Mary Vincent said the sisters are “praying mightily that God has the bank account to get it all handled,” but she said they have to face the possibility they might not be able to reopen the retreat center’s doors. 

Last year about 2000 people came through St. Clare’s doors, with an average of 60-80 people per retreat. County rules will likely prohibit hosting that many people at once when they receive permission to reopen.

While St. Clare’s situation is more dire than others, Bay Area retreat centers have all been hit hard by the downturn in business. “Right now every retreat center has this problem: you don’t know when income will come in and what you do in the meantime,” Dave Fencl, operations and finance manager at Vallombrosa Center, said.  

A paycheck protection program loan will fund staff salaries there through July 3, but the retreat center’s future is uncertain after that. The company that provides much of the staffing for Vallombrosa has reassigned some workers, so retreat center employees have had to take on additional responsibilities. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in cancellations has depleted the center’s accounts. 

Full story at Catholic SF.