A career Roman Catholic school administrator from Ohio who was named to lead the schools in the Chicago Archdiocese said last week that he is committed to battling a downsizing trend that has closed dozens of inner-city schools in the nation’s largest parochial school system in recent years.
“The thing that draws me to Chicago is the challenge of keeping Catholic schools available to all youths, in cities as well as suburbs,” Nicholas M. Wolsonovich said in an interview. “That isn’t an easy thing, and I’ve always been impressed that the archdiocese is willing to support so many schools having financial difficulty. It puts its money where its mouth is.”
Mr. Wolsonovich’s appointment as superintendent by Cardinal Francis George, announced May 3, comes as the archdiocese is struggling to keep schools in some parishes open. The archdiocese covers Cook County, which includes Chicago, and nearby Lake County. It has lost thousands of students in the past 10 years, mostly in highly urban areas, while enrollment is rising slightly in suburban areas.
Despite channeling $310 million in subsidies to financially ailing schools in the past 20 years, the archdiocese has closed 99 schools in the past 15 years and has opened only two new schools during that period. It currently serves 130,000 students in 312 schools.
When he assumes the helm in Chicago July 1, Mr. Wolsonovich hopes to become part of the solution to that problem. He has not yet drawn up plans, but he has pledged to facilitate a dialogue within the archdiocese on the future of its schools.
Mr. Wolsonovich, 57, replaces two interim co-superintendents who have been running the archdiocesan schools department since the December departure of Elaine M. Schuster. Ms. Schuster became the chief executive officer of the Chicago-based Golden Apple Foundation after leading the Catholic schools for 10 years. (“Superintendent of Chicago’s Catholic Schools Resigns,” Sept. 6, 2000.)
For 16 years, Mr. Wolsonovich has been the superintendent of schools in the Diocese of Youngstown, Ohio, which serves 15,000 students in 49 schools in a six-county area of northeastern Ohio. For two decades before assuming the superintendency there, he held various posts in the diocese and its schools, including serving as a high school teacher of religion and Latin, a principal, the diocesan director of curriculum and instruction, and the director of government programs.
Historically, priests have led Chicago’s Catholic school system. Ms. Schuster was the first layperson to do so.
As a parent himself, Mr. Wolsonovich says he understands the struggles of Catholic-school parents. A widower with three grown sons, Mr. Wolsonovich has remarried and now has three stepchildren. All six attended Catholic schools.
A version of this article appeared in the May 16, 2001 edition of Education Week as Chicago Catholic Schools Welcome New Chief