St. Catherine School shutting down next month; it’s served Kaua‘i families since 1946

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St. Catherine School, a Catholic elementary school in Kapa‘a on the East Side of Kaua‘i, is shutting down this June after 78 years in operation – despite parents’ last-ditch efforts to save it earlier this spring.

St. Catherine’s closure is due to financial constraints caused by low enrollment, according to administrators: Only 47 students now attend the school, although it has a maximum capacity of 200. As a private school serving students from kindergarten through eighth grade, St. Catherine charges approximately $8,000 per year in tuition.

Administrators had agreed to consider keeping St. Catherine’s doors open through the adoption of a less-expensive “micro-school” model if 55 students were enrolled by March 15. An enrollment drive led by a group of St. Catherine School parents failed to reach that number.

“We’re hoping to close on a positive note and in appreciation of everyone’s support and service throughout the years,” one parent said of the school’s impending closure, commenting on condition of anonymity due to privacy concerns. “On a brighter note, the church still provides youth programs for all ages who want to continue their spiritual journeys.”

School leadership – namely, parochial administrator the Rev. Nicholas K. Apetorgbor and interim principal Mandy Thronas-Brown – did not respond to numerous interview requests made by Kaua‘i Now over the past week. On Wednesday, a front office staff member said Thronas-Brown had “no comment” regarding the school’s closure.

St. Catherine School in Kapa‘a on the East Side of Kaua‘i. Taken March 14, 2024. Photo Credit: Emma Grunwald/Kaua‘i Now

Thronas-Brown, who is also associate superintendent of Hawai‘i Catholic Schools, finally addressed the issue through a press release issued Friday morning. However, the release was not provided to Kaua‘i Now, which obtained a copy through its sister site, Maui Now.


“We wish to thank every teacher, administrator, priest, nun, family member and student who chose to be a part of St. Catherine School[‘s] legacy,” Apetorgbor stated in the release.

“You will not be forgotten,” the same document quotes Thronas-Brown. “Please know just how special you are to our community, and we thank you for all of your hard work, dedication and love you have given over the years.”

This is not the first time St. Catherine School administrators have declined to communicate with the press directly: In March, Apetorgbor spoke to a Kaua‘i Now reporter and then retracted his statements, claiming he had not known he was speaking to a journalist. The writer in question maintains she identified herself clearly at the onset of their interview.

But hope springs eternal, notwithstanding Friday’s public confirmation of the St. Catherine School shutdown: Another parent – who also spoke to Kaua‘i Now on condition of anonymity – claimed the school may indeed be revived for the 2025-2026 school year under the proposed micro-school format, if 55 students can be found. In the meantime, a group of parents are considering beginning a faith-based homeschool co-op to support families until the microschool opens.

“St. Catherine School will always be our second home. It’s unbelievable, but yet so heartbreaking what is happening to our kids who have built friendships since preschool until now … I never thought this day would come, hearing our school will be closing,” said Sheena Coyaso, a parent of two, in a testimonial supporting the micro-school format issued to local news outlets in March.


“I’ll definitely miss the community that we have built throughout the years, the relationship with families, the love for the teachers and kids … this I know you won’t find at any other school,” Coyaso continued. “I am forever grateful for having been a part of our St. Catherine School family for the past seven years.”

Parents wave to drivers in Kapa‘a earlier this spring, during a failed effort to enroll enough students to keep St. Catherine School open. Taken March 14, 2024. Photo Credit: Emma Grunwald/Kaua‘i Now

Thronas-Brown herself introduced the concept of a Catholic micro-school to the St. Catherine community in January of this year. The format – taken from the book “Greatness in Smallness: A Vision for Catholic Microschools” by Jill Annable and Kevin Baxter – eschews a traditional education model in favor of developing a more personalized experience tailored to students’ specific needs, according to supporters.

A micro-school at St. Catherine would see multiple grade levels mixed together in one classroom. Its educators would focus on project-based learning with a hands-on approach including student-selected electives, flexible grouping and student goal-setting, as well as student collaboration and problem-solving, according to a parental statement released alongside Coyaso’s testimonial.

St. Catherine School resides within the St. Catherine of Alexandria Parish of Kaua‘i, which encompasses three churches: St. Catherine in Kapa‘a and St. Sylvester and St. William in Kīlauea and Hanalei on the North Shore of the island. It was built in 1946 and blessed in early 1947, according to an official history published in the 2023-2024 Parent-Student Handbook.

The school was staffed by sisters of the Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary through 1969, when leadership was assumed by the Congregation of the Dominican Sisters of the Most Holy Rosary, an order stemming from the Philippines that operated the school alongside lay teachers until the year 2000. Since then, St. Catherine School has been staffed entirely by lay teachers.

A flyer for the 2024 St. Catherine Carnival. Photo Courtesy:

Both the school and parish of St. Catherine are “committed to ending the school year celebrating St. Catherine School’s contribution to the community since 1946,” stated Friday’s press release, inviting the Garden Island community to attend the annual St. Catherine Carnival at the school located at 5021 Kawaihau Road.

The carnival – which opened Friday evening – will continue May 4 from 5-10 p.m. Food, entertainment, games and rides for small children will be on-site.

To commemorate the legacy of St. Catherine School, the Kaua‘i community is also invited to attend a farewell Mass with Bishop Larry Silva at 5 p.m. on June 5. The Mass will be followed by dinner.

To RSVP for the June 5 event, call the St. Catherine School office at 808-822-4212 by May 17.

“Join us to celebrate the rich history, cherished memories and enduring legacy of St. Catherine School as we bid a fond farewell,” school leadership said Friday.

Scott Yunker
Scott Yunker is a journalist living on Kauaʻi. His work for community newspapers has earned him awards and inclusion in the 2020 anthology "Corona City: Voices from an Epicenter."
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