Published Online: January 31, 1990

School Closings, Tuition Hikes in Store for Chicago Archdiocese

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, which operates the nation's largest parochial school system, last week announced a drastic cost-cutting plan that will shut down at least six elementary schools and could lead to tuition hikes at many remaining schools.

The plan, which also includes closings of more than a dozen parish churches, is part of a major effort to rescue the archdiocese from mounting deficits.

The six schools identified last week will close by June 30, joining five others among the archdiocese's 343 elementary schools already targeted for closing at the end of the school year. In addition, two high-school seminaries will be merged.

At least a half-dozen more elementary schools could be closed or consolidated by the end of the next school year, after further reviews of parish operations, archdiocesan officials said.

At least 13 churches out of 416 will be closed by June 30, they said, with the consolidation or closing of about 17 more to be decided after March 1. Further action is possible next year.

"To put it very simply, to provide the services so needed and sought by our community, we are spending considerably more than we are receiving," Cardinal Joseph L. Bernardin, the archbishop of Chicago, said Jan. 21 in televised message to the archdiocese's 2.3 million Catholics.

'The painful part of this situation," he said, "is that we must consolidate or close some parishes and schools."

According to a church document, the heart of the "action plan" is an effort to raise more revenue through greater giving by parishioners under the concept of stewardship, "an attitude of gratitude to God which prompts us to share our time, talents, and treasure with others."

"We are approaching the future with confidence and hope," Cardinal Bernardin said. "I firmly believe that we can counter every dollar of reduced expenditures with three dollars in increased revenue."

Enforcement of Tuition Rule

The plan also includes several important provisions for archdiocesan schools that will remain open.

Under a provision that could have the greatest impact, the archdiocese will begin to enforce a rule that requires schools to cover 65 percent of their operating costs with tuition, fees, and other school fund raising. Currently, 185 schools do not meet the goal, according to church officials.

If all schools met the 65 percent rule, as is called for within three years, school income would increase by $12.5 million across the archdiocese, the officials said. Enforcement of the rule could lead to higher tuition, they acknowledged.

The officials noted that many of the archdiocese's inner-city schools do meet the financing goal, partly because many Catholic schools in the city compete well against the troubled Chicago Public Schools.

Cardinal Bernardin's plan also calls for parishes without schools to begin to make provisions to support Catholic schools in their areas. And schools with fewer than 200 students and parishes without schools will be asked to begin planning for regional or interparish schools.

Closings in Detroit

The parish closings planned for Chicago are similar to the action announced in 1988 by Cardinal Edmund Szoka of Detroit, who ordered 30 of his archdiocese's inner-city churches closed. This month, five more Detroit churches were ordered closed after a year-long test of viability that 20 other churches survived.

The Detroit closings did not involve schools, although at many of the closed churches, parish schools were closed in years past, said Jay Berman, a spokesman for that city's archdiocese.

In Chicago, many of the parishes and schools targeted for closing were built in the late 1800's and early 1900's to serve the immigrant groups from Ireland, Italy, Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and other European countries who arrived to work in the city's meat-packing houses and steel mills.

Often, parish churches and schools were built within blocks of each other to serve these ethnic groups, which did not readily mix. The archdiocese said 27 percent of its parishes are located less than a half-mile from a neighboring parish.

"The parishes served as the transition from the culture of their home country to the mainstream of this country," said Brother Robert Kealey, director of elementary education for the National Catholic Educational Association.

Many of the descendants of these immigrants flocked to the suburbs after World War II, leaving dwindling numbers to support inner-city parish churches.

The Chicago archdiocese extends well beyond the city limits, covering the suburban portion of Cook County and all of suburban Lake County.

Enrollment in the archdiocesan school system peaked at 365,000 students in 1964, according to Brother Donald Houde, director of administrative affairs in the archdiocese's office of Catholic education.

By 1980, enrollment had declined to 189,000. Today, the system has 115,000 elementary students in 343 schools and 39,000 secondary students in 52 high schools, for a total of about 155,000 students.

The decline in school enrollment has slowed in recent years, Brother Houde said.

$15-Million Bank Debt

Among U.S. dioceses, Chicago is second in number of Catholics to the Los Angeles archdiocese. But Chicago has more parishes and more institutions--a fact that has added to its financial burden because of the costly maintenance required for its many old buildings.

The Chicago archdiocese has had several recent years of deficit spending, which it attributes to increases in grants to parishes that do not break even, higher labor and benefits costs, and greater operating costs for parish and archdiocesan buildings.

The archdiocese currently owes $15 million to Chicago banks. Without drastic action to stem the red ink, officials said, deficits might grow to $142 million by 1993.

A committee was appointed last year to study long-range solutions to the financial crisis.

Cardinal Bernardin studied the committee's proposals and met with members of the religious community before making his final decision on the new action plan.

The elementary schools slated for closing under last week's announcement are: Holy Trinity, Sacred Heart of Jesus, St. Bonaventure, St. Charles Lwanga, St. Francis de Paula, and St. John of God. In the case of the last two, their parish churches will also be closed.

In addition, the Quigley South Preparatory Seminary will be closed, and a single prep seminary will be established at the Quigley North seminary. The seminaries are full high schools designed to prepare young men to study for the priesthood.

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