Father Joseph McCaffrey’s plan to close Holy Spirit Academy and to partner with the Kennedy Catholic Family of Schools for students’ continued education is official.

Bishop David Zubik of the Diocese of Pittsburgh on Thursday announced his approval of the strategy, which includes Holy Spirit Parish providing $2,000 in tuition aid for each student going to Hermitage’s St. John Paul II Elementary School, which is in the Diocese of Erie.

The strategy is a departure from the Diocese of Pittsburgh’s efforts to regionalize struggling Catholic schools within its own borders. Under those guidelines, Holy Spirit students likely would have had to travel to Butler or Beaver County — much further destinations than Hermitage — to continue their education.

In granting his permission for Holy Spirit Academy — formerly St. Vitus School — to close at the end of the 2020-21 school year, Zubik said that he wants “to recognize the wonderful contributions of teachers and staff at Holy Spirit Academy who dedicated themselves to educating our children in the Catholic faith, and the many school families and parishioners who have worked diligently over the past number of years in support of the school.”

The bishop said that he is granting permission for the school to close “with the clear understanding that the children of parishioners of Holy Spirit Parish will be encouraged and assisted in every way possible to attend another available Catholic school,” whether that be St. John Paul II or other Catholic elementary schools within the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

However, a news release from the diocese did note that there already are 40 students from Holy Spirit Parish who are attending Kennedy Catholic schools.

McCaffrey and Mark Ferrara, president of Kennedy Catholic schools, have worked to establish a partnership between their two schools.

Under McCaffrey’s plan, the $2,000-per-student tuition assistance would be taken from funds assessed on each parish by the Diocese of Pittsburgh for the support of Catholic education and provided to St. John Paul II, even though it is in a different diocese. Money over and above the tuition aid would be sent to the Diocese of Pittsburgh, and Holy Spirit Parish would continue to participate in the regional elementary schools governance structure being established in the diocese’s northwest region.

Ferrara said last month that clergy from Holy Spirit Parish would be welcome at St. John Paul II, and he plans to add representatives from the parish to his oversight councils. Holy Spirit teachers also would be considered for staff openings.

“I’m glad that the bishop saw the wisdom in it and is allowing for it,” McCaffrey said Thursday. “Times are different. We can’t live in the past. We have to live in the present. The people who built that parish and that school, and all the other parishes and schools that we’ve had, they were perfect for their time. We have to do what’s right for our time.”

Holy Spirit Academy has struggled for several years to keep its enrollment and funding up, even cutting