Catholic Diocese of Erie to open Mother Teresa Academy in downtown Erie

Elementary mission school to be under the leadership of Cathedral Prep-Villa Maria Academy

Left to right: James Gallagher, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Erie, David Slomski, Tina Donikowski (exploratory committee chair), Bishop Lawrence Persico, Sister Rosemary O’Brien, SSJ; Atty. James Walczak; Father Nicolas Rouch, vicar for Education; and Father Scott Jabo, president of Cathedral Prep, Villa Maria Academy and Mother Teresa Academy.

The Most Rev. Lawrence Persico, bishop of Erie, announced today that the Diocese of Erie will open Mother Teresa Academy, a mission school for children in grades K-8, beginning in January 2018. The academy will replace Holy Family School, the only Catholic elementary school located in inner-city Erie.

The initiative is part of Building in Truth and Love, the 2016 comprehensive pastoral plan for Catholic schools in the Diocese of Erie. In addition to creating the new, six-campus Erie Catholic School System, the plan called for Holy Family School to transition from a parish school into a separately incorporated diocesan school. The goal was to strengthen Catholic elementary education in the Erie area without neglecting the unique needs of inner-city families, who often are economically disadvantaged.

Bishop Lawrence Persico answers questions from Raychel Vendetti of WJET-TV.

“It was my sincere hope that in restructuring our Catholic schools in the Erie area, we would be able to maintain our commitment to students in the inner city,” Bishop Persico said. “Everyone recognizes this need in our community. It’s been a privilege to witness the commitment of the creative, forward-thinking people who came together to make this a reality.”

The mission of Mother Teresa Academy is “to provide superior academic, value- and faith-based education for children in grades K-8, living in Erie’s most economically challenged neigh-borhoods.” The school, which will be located in the former St. Peter Cathedral School at 160 W. 11th Street in Erie, will serve 180 students, with one classroom in each grade.

Bishop Persico appointed an exploratory committee under the leadership of Tina Donikowski, retired senior executive and corporate officer at GE Transportation, to begin working on the project in May 2016. In February 2017, the Prep-Villa board of directors approved a resolution to own and operate the mission school. This spring, the final component of the effort came into place through an initial round of philanthropic community support of the school.

Father Scott Jabo, president of Cathedral Prep, Villa Maria Academy and now, Mother Teresa Academy, discusses the new school with reporter Paul Wagner of Erie News Now.

“It was essential that this initiative have support not only from the Diocese of Erie, but also from the community,” Bishop Persico said. “I wanted to partner with others who embraced the vision for the school. The early response has been swift and significant; I have no doubt we will continue to garner the funding this effort needs.”

In addition to Donikowski, the exploratory committee included Sister Rosemary O’Brien, SSJ, longtime educator and pastoral minister; David Slomski, senior vice president of business banking, Marquette Savings Bank; and Atty. Jim Walczak, partner, MacDonald Illig Jones & Britton.

The group recommended the school be placed under the leadership of Cathedral Prep and Villa Maria Academy. Among the reasons given for this decision are Prep-Villa’s understanding of the school’s mission, its Catholic identity, a well-established fundraising operation, and its strong administration.

Sister Kevin Berdis, OSF, has served as principal of Holy Family School for 19 years. Her duties as principal will conclude at the end of the 2016-17 school year. She has been invited to oversee the 100th anniversary of Holy Family School, a celebration which will occur in October 2017. A search for the first principal of the academy will begin immediately.

David Bruce of the Erie Times-News interviews Father Nicholas Rouch, vicar for Education.

“We owe Sister Kevin a debt of gratitude,” Bishop Persico said. “Through sheer determination and love, she nurtured generations of students in Erie’s inner city. Her commitment and generosity have been essential to the school.”

Father Scott Jabo, president of Cathedral Prep and Villa Maria Academy, will take on additional duties as president of Mother Teresa Academy. The Prep-Villa board also will expand its role, extending its responsibilities to include the new school. Current teachers at Holy Family School, who are certified, will be retained through the 2017-18 school year as previously promised, and additional faculty members, if needed, will be hired this summer. All current students enrolled at Holy Family School, 1153 E. Ninth St., will be accepted into the academy.

A new tuition structure will be introduced for Mother Teresa Academy. While annual tuition will be set at $5,000—a rate higher than other area Catholic schools—those who qualify for free lunch under the Federal Poverty Guidelines for Free and Reduced Lunch will receive an annual $4,750 scholarship. This reduces their cost to $250 per year beginning in September 2017. Families who qualify for reduced lunches will receive a $4,500 scholarship, bringing their annual tuition bill to $500. The school will be open from 7 am to 5 pm on each school day; before and after-school care will be included in tuition costs.

Father Scott Jabo speaks with reporter David Bruce of the Erie Times-News.

All new applicants must be residents of the City of Erie. Priority will be given to new students who meet the Federal Poverty Guidelines and who are not currently enrolled at other Catholic schools in the area.

Families at Mother Teresa Academy will sign a contract in which they agree to be involved in their child’s education through volunteer work and by participation in parent-teacher conferences.

Renovations at the future Mother Teresa Academy will occur between July and November 2017, which will allow for the January transition of Holy Family students and teachers to their new home. The ongoing commitment to fundraising also will be emphasized in order to ensure the best possible educational experience for the children of Erie.

As for the most burning question of all: the school’s mascot will be the Saints.

For inquiries concerning Mother Teresa Academy, please contact Chris Hagerty, director of Strategic Initiatives for Cathedral Prep and Villa Maria Academy, at

Building in Truth and Love can be found at References to Holy Family School can be found on page 21 in the PDF version.