Many Catholic Schools Week events get snowed out

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Sunday, February 13, 2011

Catholic Schools Week is usually chock full of fun activities for students and teachers, with school scheduling everything from "crazy socks day" to volleyball and basketball games between students and faculty.

But this year, students got an unscheduled break during Catholic Schools Week as a blizzard dumped about 20 inches of snow on the Chicago area. The Office for Catholic Schools recommended that all 256 schools close their doors on Feb. 2, when the storm was still going on in the morning hours, and asked them to stay closed Feb. 3 as crews worked to clear side streets and make the area safe for travel.

Some schools stayed closed a third day, depending on conditions in their local areas.

At St. Hyacinth School on the Northwest Side, principal Ann Marie Mahay reopened on Feb. 4.

"The streets and parking lots were clear and we had good heat in the building," Mahay said, explaining her decision to reopen the school. About two-thirds of the students showed up. "My teachers could get here."

Before the big storm — which packed a double whammy of winds of 70 mph on the shore of Lake Michigan as well as the third-largest snowfall in Chicago history — many schools, including St. Hyacinth and Divine Providence School in Westchester kicked off the week by having students and their families come to Mass and hosting open houses.

This year's Catholic Schools Week theme was "A+ for America," emphasizing the contribution Catholic schools and their students make to civic life in the United States.

St. Hyacinth then had a movie day on Jan. 31, with popcorn for the students, and held its science and art fair on Feb. 1. But the evening portion of the events — when parents were invited to view the science and art projects — had to be postponed because of the storm, Mahay said.

By Feb. 4, when both schools were open again, the students at St. Hyacinth were treated to a pep rally with cheers and contests and a basketball game between the teachers and the eighth-graders.

At Divine Providence, Catholic Schools Week is more of a "Catholic Schools Month," said Karen Paulaskas, the director of enrollment management, so many of the activities already took place.

But the school was glad that classes could resume because of the annual grandparents day and bingo game Feb. 4.

The intrepid grandparents of Divine Providence came through, Paulaskas said.

"We usually have 300 people at this event, and we had no shortage this year," she said.

Students at Incarnation School in Palos Heights got lucky because they celebrated Catholic Schools week early, to coincide with a special game show that always visits the last week of January, said Maria Hawk, the school's principal.