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Each year, some 100 Roman Catholic schools are closed or merged, many in inner cities where parishioners have moved away and enrollments have dropped.

Next fall in Chicago, however, the first new Catholic school in more than two decades will open. Old St. Patrick's school will serve a downtown parish recently replenished by an influx of young professionals.

The school itself is unique in that it will operate out of space in a luxury high-rise residential complex on the western edge of Chicago's Loop, or downtown.

"We have two goals in opening this school," said Sister Mary Ellen Caron, who will be principal. "One is to help the downtown parents who want to stay living downtown. Second, we're trying to help the two-worker parents."

Some parents who commute as much as an hour into the city have expressed the desire to bring their children along, dropping them off at the school before going to work.

But most of the pupils will be the children of those who moved into new condominiums in the area over the last four to five years.

"The church's education committee did a survey and found that most of these parents, when their children turned 3 or 4, moved to the suburbs because of concerns about the schools," said Sister Mary Ellen.

Founded in the mid-1800's, Old St. Patrick's is Chicago's oldest Catholic church, but its membership had dwindled to a mere handful of parishioners. With the influx of new residents, however, membership has climbed to 1,200.

The parish's school building is currently being rented by a fine-arts school, but it will once again house the school beginning in 1990 with the initial 1st-grade class.

A preschool and kindergarten will open in the high-rise complex next fall and will probably remain there due to space limitations at the old school, which will eventually expand to the 8th grade, Sister Mary Ellen said.

The principal believes Old St. Patrick's can become an educational model for new Catholic schools in the inner city.

"The good news for educators is the excitement and enthusiasm is very far and wide," she said. "I have received 12 phone calls from pregnant women, all wanting to be placed on the waiting list."


In the fall, Teachers College at Columbia University will begin offering classes in private- school administration, including courses on legal issues in private education, marketing, and financial management in the nonprofit sector, as well as administrative internships at leading private schools.

For more information, contact Professor Pearl R. Kane, Box 125, Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, N.Y. 10027.

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