School Choice & Charters

Outside Donations Help Five Chicago Catholic Schools Off Closure List

By Mary Ann Zehr — May 24, 2005 2 min read
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The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago has removed five schools from its list of 23 elementary schools slated for closing at the end of the academic year. The schools getting a reprieve have shown they will be financially viable for at least another year, archdiocesan officials say.

“There were significant financial changes that happened, including some major donations,” Susan Burritt, the director of school marketing for the archdiocese, said last week. “They had to prove they had increased their enrollment.”

With 106,700 students, the Chicago Archdiocese runs the second-largest nonpublic school system in the country. Archdiocesan leaders said in March that rising costs, changing demographics, and declining enrollments had spurred the decision to close nearly two dozen schools. (“Catholic Schools’ Mission to Serve Needy Children Jeopardized by Closings,” March 9, 2005.)

At least two of the five schools that received approval to stay open primarily serve Hispanic students.

The archdiocese agreed to keep open St. John Berchmans School, located on the northwest side of Chicago, after the school’s parents and staff raised $163,000 to help pay down the school’s debt of $240,000, said Sister Joyce Montgomery, the principal.

“That’s been through very small donations,” she said. “The largest we received were a couple of $5,000 donations.” The school enrolls 240 students in prekindergarten through 8th grade and is the neighborhood’s only Catholic elementary school.

Sister Montgomery said the school’s local parish is too poor to subsidize the school. But the school received more than $100,000 this school year from the Big Shoulders Fund, a local nonprofit organization that raises money to support Catholic schools in low-income neighborhoods. Big Shoulders has promised another $100,000 for the coming school year.

Shutdowns Elsewhere

Epiphany Catholic School in Little Village, a Mexican-American neighborhood on the city’s southwest side, will also stay open. It’s one of three Catholic elementary schools in the neighborhood.

Sister Elizabeth Pardo, the principal at Epiphany, said that parents were able to assure the archdiocese that the school would have at least 170 students in kindergarten through 8th grade for the coming school year. Including prekindergarten classes, the school now has 167 students.

Also, Sister Pardo said, donors that had been supporting the school pledged they would continue to do so.

The other three schools in the Chicago Archdiocese that had been slated to close but will now stay open for another school year are St. Helena of the Cross, Pope John Paul II, and St. Edmund, which is located in Oak Park, a suburb of Chicago.

In addition, the St. Paul/Our Lady of Vilna School will stay open and not be merged with another Catholic school, as the archdiocese had announced in March.

Chicago is one of several cities that will lose a significant number of Catholic schools at the end of this school year. The Diocese of Brooklyn, in New York, plans to close 26 K-8 schools, though four will reopen as regional schools in the fall. The Archdiocese of Detroit will close 17 schools. Eight are high schools and nine are elementary schools.

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