"We can't afford to fool ourselves," Archbishop Charles Chaput said at a news conference. "We need an honest response to serious losses that have been happening year after year in some of our schools. And this will continue to happen if we do nothing."
The system's current enrollment of 68,000 students is the same number the archdiocese served in 1911. It also represents a 35 percent drop in the student population since 2001. The archdiocese already had closed 30 schools during the past five years, leaving 178 schools in the city and four surrounding counties.
The closures announced Friday will reduce that number dramatically.
"It's extremely sad," said Rita Schwartz, president of the local chapter of the Association of Catholic Teachers. "Right now, there is a grieving process going on in 44 elementary schools and four high schools."
Officials estimated about 1,700 teachers and 85 administrators would be displaced and have to reapply for positions in newly consolidated schools.
Superintendent Mary Rochford estimated that about 300 teachers could be out of jobs once the dust has settled.
The Blue Ribbon Commission, created in December of 2010 by Chaput's predecessor, Cardinal Justin Rigali recommended the closures. Chaput said he'd accept the commission's recommendations barring any major factual error in their report.
The mean annual elementary tuition in the U.S. is $3,383, according to the National Catholic Education Association. The mean annual high school tuition is $8,787. These numbers vary in each Catholic school in Philadelphia.
The commission's report also set forth strategies for sustaining the Catholic system for future generations. Philadelphia has the second-highest enrollment among dioceses nationwide, just behind Chicago, according to the education association.
Chaput was told the commission's proposals could mean the archdiocese might go 10 to 15 years without more school closings. He also stressed that Catholic school closings affect educational choices for families of all faiths. Especially in troubled urban neighborhoods, Catholic schools are often seen as a safer and more enriching alternative to failing public schools.
Mayor Michael Nutter issued a statement Friday that read in part: "Let's not forget that we are one city, and we're all in this together."
Nationwide, Catholic schools have lost more than 587,000 students since 2000, according to the National Catholic Education Association. At least 1,750 schools have closed.