NORTH WILDWOOD — Wildwood Catholic High School will close its doors at the end of this school year, according to a Jan. 5 letter to students and their families.

With the closing of the North Wildwood school, that leaves the county without a Catholic high school and students going outside the local area to continue their Catholic education.

Wildwood Catholic High School, which first opened in 1948, has an enrollment of 194 students, which is down from more than 300 about five years ago, according to Camden Diocese officials. The projections indicate that the enrollment will not improve, but will fur-ther decline in the years ahead.

That decline in enrollment has adversely affected tuition income, which has been insufficient to cover per student costs, according to the letter. Tuition at the school is $6,280 for one child and $5,980 for each additional child.

The decline also has financially burdened the school with growing debt of more than $685,000 and annual deficits which are expected to top $500,000 this year and almost $900,000 next year.

“While this decision is a necessary one, it has not been an easy one. I recognize that the closure of the high school is difficult for our school families, faculty and administration, and parish community, all of whom have supported the school with loyalty and dedication,” wrote St. Ann’s Pastor Michael J. Field. “Yet, it would have been irresponsible for everyone involved to allow current conditions to persist or to deteriorate even further over time.”

Field said that he wrote to Bishop Joseph Galante in late November 2009 to share the concerns about enrollment decline and the school’s financial situation. At that same time a study of the high school was drafted and the report that Field received was “sobering and confirmed the insurmountable troubles facing the school.”

For students, a $1,000 per student tuition voucher will be provided to each family that may be applied toward tuition at Holy Spirit High School in Absecon or another diocesan Catholic high school chosen by the family for the 2010-11 school year.

As for the teachers, Field wrote that we will work to place faculty and staff in other Catholic schools and, for those who do not secure employment, we will offer a severance package.

Declining student enrollment at Wildwood Catholic, the county’s only Catholic high school, had sparked rumors growing that the school may close. Officials would not comment on the rumors as late as Jan. 4 but said that there have been discussions as well as a study to examine the best means to address the decline and parish leadership will inform parents and parishioners of the school's position in the near future.

With the rumors vindicated, Field writes that the families will “mourn the loss of Wild-wood Catholic High School” but look forward to the opening of Cape Trinity Catholic.

Cape Trinity will join the school communities of St. Raymond’s, St. Ann’s and Our Lady Star of the Sea and will be located at the North Wildwood high school campus beginning in September. The former high school will “make a first class elementary school for lower Cape May County,” Field said.

The present high school property also will be used for the Notre Dame de la Mer Parish Center.