Three schools set to close reprieved

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Sunday, February 9, 2014

Three of the six Catholic elementary schools that were notified that they were slated for closure in early January have won reprieves.

Two — Our Lady of Victory, 4434 N. Laramie, and St. Christopher in Midlothian — have been given the go-ahead to start registering students and planning for next year, said Dominican Sister Mary Paul McCaughey, superintendent of schools. St. Florian, 13110 S. Baltimore Ave., has been given until later in February to present a plan to the Office for Catholic Schools, with a decision expected by March 1. St. Florian was the last of the six schools to be notified that it was to close, and got a later start at coming up with a proposal to eliminate its financial deficit.

While each of the six schools faced unique circumstances, they were closed because the archdiocese could not afford to continue supporting them financially, whether in terms of grants or covering unpaid bills or loans. The archdiocese is trying to reduce its aid to Catholic schools from $22 million last year by $10 million this year and another $10 million in subsequent years. The schools that are trying to remain open must present a plan to achieve financial independence next year — and for several years going forward — to be allowed to stay open.

When they were notified that they would close, parents, alumni administrators and parish leaders at both Our Lady of Victory and St. Christopher swung into action, contacting supporters, collecting donations and pledges.

In the end, they made enough progress to continue toward staying open, although there are no guarantees.

“This process will be marked by benchmarks all along,” Sister Mary Paul said.

$1.8 million raised
At St. Christopher, parishioners and school families raised $1.8 million in cash and pledges to be paid over the next five years, almost enough to erase a projected $2 million shortfall over the same time period. Sister Mary Paul said the Office for Catholic Schools was especially impressed that the effort was led by the parish finance committee, putting the responsibility for the school back on the parish.

“The schools were built by Catholic people for their children,” she said. “I love the ownership and the rediscovery of the sacrifices needed to make schools really work.”

At the same time, St. Christopher’s principal, Maureen Wilson, was already working with the University of Notre Dame to increase enrollment.

“They convinced us that they have a long and loving future,” Sister Mary Paul said.

Making the plan work
The planning at Our Lady of Victory did not extend as far as St. Christopher’s, but it is enough for the school to go forward, Sister Mary Paul said, especially since the school has already significantly increased its enrollment. “OLV proved it can do some things in the year ahead,” she said.

Jennifer Hodge, the principal at OLV, said the school has collected more than $800,000 in cash and pledges to be paid over the next three years, a little more than two-thirds of the $1.2 million the Office of Catholic Schools estimated they will need.

But with a new emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math, and increasing enrollment at the lower grades, Hodge said that she is convinced the school will make it.

“Now we’re putting together the committees we will need to make our plan work,” Hodge said, adding that parents had been waiting by their phones Jan. 21 to get the word after Hodge met with the Office for Catholic Schools.

Sister Mary Paul said the office was happy to see the school reach out.

“OLV had once said they had a hard time engaging alums; not anymore!” Sister Mary Paul said.

Now St. Florian is working on a similar plan. So far, it calls for increasing tuition, raising money from “angels” and tapping into — or creating — an alumni network. One idea is to link donors with specific students, so they know who their money is helping.

The other schools to be closed are St. Bernadette, Evergreen Park and Santa Maria del Popolo, Mundelein. St. Benedict the African-Stewart Campus on the South Side closed in December because of safety issues with the boiler and an unstable wall.


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