School reopens to welcome pre-K, kindergarten students

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, June 16, 2021

School reopens to welcome pre-K, kindergarten students

Staff and students from Good Shepherd and Epiphany Schools in Little Village celebrated a re-opening of Good Shepherd School, 2725 S. Kolin Ave., with a ribbon cutting ceremony on June 2, 2021. The Good Shepherd Catholic School building will be reopened for the 2021-2022 school year to house an expansion of neighboring Epiphany Catholic School’s preschool and kindergarten programs. Good Shepherd Catholic School closed in 2005, but the building had been leased and occupied by a public school until about two years ago. The building has been vacant since. It was announced last March that Epiphany and Good Shepherd parishes would merge through the archdiocese’s Renew My Church initiative. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Students watch the start of the ribbon cutting celebration. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Big Shoulders Fund President Msgr. Ken Velo makes the sign of the cross with students before the ribbon cutting. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Father José María G. Maldonado, pastor of Good Shepherd Parish, gives a blessing before the ribbon cutting ceremony. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

When Raquel and Elma Arce walked into the assembly room in Good Shepherd School, 2725 S. Kolin Ave., on June 2, they couldn’t stop smiling.

“This is a great day,” said Elma Arce, Raquel’s mother.

The two were there for the announcement that the building will once again be a Catholic school, opening next year as a campus of Epiphany School with pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes, and the hope of adding additional classes until it is a full pre-K through eighth grade campus.

Raquel Arce was a member of the final graduating class at Good Shepherd in 2005; her older sister graduated from the school as well. Her younger brother started at Good Shepherd and finished elementary school at Epiphany.

The re-opened school will be a ministry of Good Shepherd and Epiphany Parish, which will be officially created as the two parishes unite July 1 as part of the Renew My Church process. It also will receive support from the Big Shoulders Fund, which took on a leadership role in and greater financial commitment to 30 schools, including Epiphany, in early 2020.

“After a year like no other, we need uplifting moments,” said Joshua Hale, executive director of the Big Shoulders Fund, speaking to an audience of community members, Good Shepherd alumni, leaders from the Office of Catholic Schools and Big Shoulders and students from Epiphany School, 4223 W. 25th St., who made the 10-minute walk from their campus.

Catholic schools, their teachers and students, have been an inspiration during the COVID-19 pandemic, Hale said, and it’s time to change a storyline that is too often heard about Catholic schools closing and consolidating. That’s a story that is familiar in Chicago as well as the rest of the country.

“We don’t see Catholic schools closing, we see them expanding, building and growing,” Hale said. “During COVID, we saw these schools rise up as beacons of hope. We are building something great here.”

Epiphany School, which was also slated to be closed in 2005 but found enough funding to remain open, now has waiting lists in the early childhood grades, said Sarah Martinez, the school’s marketing director and an alumna of Good Shepherd.

“This community is saying that they want this great faith-based education,” she said.

Msgr. Kenneth Velo, Big Shoulders Fund president, asked the assembled students if they had ever seen a real shepherd. A few raised their hands, but Velo explained to them that shepherds are not just people who work with sheep. They are the people who work to keep the children safe and help them grow up healthy and strong.

“They are your parents, they are your teachers, they are your principals,” he said.

Epiphany Spanish teacher Andrea Guevara said she lives in the community as well as teaches there.

“It’s because of that that I know what it is you want, I know what it is you need, I know what it is to work and work,” she said, addressing the students. It is up to them, she told the eighth graders, to keep their friendships up and keep what they learned at Epiphany as they move forward, and it is up to the seventh graders to step up and lead the school.

“Show the community what it means to be from Little Village,” she told them, referencing the predominantly Mexican neighborhood that, like many Chicago neighborhoods, has suffered from violence. “Good can come from Little Village. It will come. It’s here. I’m looking at it.”

Dominican Father Brendan Curran, an organizer at the Resurrection Project, led the Epiphany students in a chant of their motto: “College bound and heaven bound!”

Scott Ernst, Epiphany’s principal, credited the Office of Catholic Schools and Big Shoulders for working to keep Catholic schools in Chicago vital.

“They believe these children deserve the best and they persisted and they found ways to make sure these schools remain open and remain strong,” he said.


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