Three Catholic Schools in Manhattan Snare National Blue Ribbon Awards

The three Catholic schools that received the awards were based in the Upper East Side, Chinatown and the Gramercy Park area and were among only five schools in Manhattan to receive the awards.

| 08 Feb 2024 | 10:40

It’s no secret that Catholic schools have long offered the best deal in private education.

Not all Catholic educations are the same, however. There are boys schools, girls schools, and coeducational schools. There are schools founded by Jesuits, Franciscans, Christian Brothers, and a wide variety of Sisters.

Besides that, in September 2023, three Manhattan Catholic schools, which are administered by the Archdiocese of New York, received the prestigious National Blue Ribbon School Award: the Transfiguration School in Chinatown; Epiphany School in Gramercy; and Saint Stephen of Hungary School on the Upper East Side.

Sister Mary Grace Walsh, ASCJ, Ph. D., Superintendent of Schools in the Archdiocese of New York noted: “To have three of our schools in Manhattan receive this honor is a testament to the students’ desire to succeed. The award also speaks volumes about the administrators, staff, faculty and these children’s parents’ capacity to instill a love of learning,”

Founded by the U.S. Department of Education in 1982, the Blue Ribbon Schools program seeks to recognize, via an extensive set of criteria, “public and private elementary, middle, and high schools based on their overall academic excellence or their progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups.”

Each of the three schools has their own interesting story.

Dating back to 1888, the Epiphany School is notable for its ability to thrive an era when Catholic schools in general have faced unprecedented challenges and numerous closures. Once one of many Catholic schools on the mid- and lower East Side, today Epiphany—which has a Lower School on East 22nd Street and an Upper School on East 28th—is the sole nearby option for Gramercy, Stuy Town, Turtle Bay and the East Village families since the closure of Immaculate Conception on E. 14th St. in June and is drawing some from the as west side families with the closure of Guardian Angel the last Catholic School in Chelsea.

That Epiphany has been able to keep its doors open is due not just to its superior reputation but also some shrewd financial planning that has provided the school some independence from a shrinking, and cash strapped Archdiocese. Epiphany has around 425 students at present, two of whom are the children of the school’s principal, Kate McHugh.

Though it’s a bit too early to tell whether the Blue Ribbon status will boost enrollment, McHugh is “hopeful that receiving the award will help prospective families to better understand the excellent education Epiphany provides.”

Tuition for 2024-2025, ranges from $11,600 to $12,7000 (the cost is less for supporting Catholic parishioners) plus a number of common fees.

Located in what today is Chinatown, the Transfiguration School is based out of the Transfiguration Church at 29 Mott Street. Because the church was founded in 1832, however, its history predates the development of Chinatown by four decades. Back then, Transfiguration was a beacon of the infamous Five Points neighborhood, with a substantial German population and what would soon become an immense and needy Irish one. While conditions in the Five Points would eventually improve, and the Irish giving way to immigrant Italians and Chinese, Transfiguraton remained stalwart.

Today, both the parish and the school serve a largely Chinese population though people for from all backgrounds are welcome. Indeed, a substantial number of Transfiguration’s students in recent decades have come from non-Catholic families.

Why? Shared moral values, and commitment to quality are two big reasons. Despite having been named a Blue Ribbon school once before, in 2011, Transfiguration was neither complacent nor jaded and this past September, when the school learned it had again earned Blue Ribbon status, its Facebook account proclaimed, “EXCITING NEWS!!!” above a photo of smiling students standing in front of their proud principal, Michael Lenahan.

Tuition for grades 1 through 8 for the 2023-2024 school year was $8,800 plus a variety of fees that can total around $1,000, give or take. Discounts are available for siblings.

Proudly representing the Yorkville of the section Upper East Side, the Saint Stephen of Hungary School is another proud Blue Ribbon recipient.

For those not familiar with this patron saint, it’s quite a story. Born around 975 CE, Stephen was the son of the supreme Magyar chieftain, Géza. Though born a pagan, Stephen was baptized and raised a Christian. Upon the death of his father in 997, a succession battle followed, with Stephen triumphant and on Christmas Day 1000, he was anointed the king of Hungary. His crown, received from Pope Sylvester II, is a Hungarian national treasure and Stephen himself was canonized in 1083.

In New York, the Saint Stephen is a bit younger, having been founded with the aid of Franciscan Friars in 1928 to minister to the working families of Yorkville, including a vibrant Hungarian community within the area’s larger German population.

Today the school serves around 335 students, nearly all of whom—along with their families and the school’s faculty and staff—likely rejoiced when the school principal, Allyson Genova-Hall made the announcement that school’s pastor, “Father Donald Baker and I, share with pride and joy that our beloved school has been named by the United States Department of Education as a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence!”

Saint Stephen tuition rates for 2024-2035 are $13,100 for kindergarten through 8th grade. A number of fees adds around a $1000, give or take, to the costs though families do get $200 tuition discount per sibling.

Is it worth it? “Saint Stephen School continues to provide a safe, secure, learning environment for many children of diverse backgrounds,” says their mission statement. “To this day, we strongly value the Franciscan tradition of kindness and consideration for all creation which is an essential part of our school culture.”