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CHICAGO (March 19, 1999) – Citing low enrollment and the need to steward limited resources, the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Office of Catholic Education has announced that three Catholic schools will close at the end of the present school year and four Catholic schools will consolidate to form one school with two campuses.

Dr. Elaine Schuster, superintendent of Catholic schools, says that there is a possibility that one more school closure will be announced this school year.

The following three schools will close in June: Assumption B.V.M./St. Catherine of Genoa, 11756 S. Lowe Ave.; Our Lady of the Angels, 3814 W. Iowa St.; Our Lady of Peace, 7847 S. Jeffrey Blvd.

"I regret the closing of these schools, and I am especially sad to close Our Lady of the Angels school, which the parish worked so hard to rebuild after the fire more than 40 years ago," says Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I., Archbishop of Chicago. "In order to continue to provide quality education for the community, which the Catholic Church has done for the past 103 years, the Archdiocese will begin talks with officials of the Chicago public school system and other interested parties to explore the possibility of placing a high quality charter school in the Our Lady of the Angels school building."

There is a memorial to the victims of the Our Lady of the Angels fire at Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Hillside, IL. Cardinal George, reiterating what he said at the Mass last December commemorating the 40th anniversary of the fire, wants to place an appropriate memorial in the school building or church, according to suggestions from survivors and families of the survivors and victims. The pastor of St. Francis of Assisi/Our Lady of the Angels Parish, Fr. Nicholas Desmond, has been working on this project.

The following four schools in Chicago’s Brighton Park neighborhood will consolidate to form one new school with two campuses: Five Holy Martyrs, 4325 S. Richmond; Immaculate Conception, 4420 S. Fairfield; Our Lady of Fatima, 2744 W. Pershing; and St. Pancratius, 2940 W. 40th Place. The new school will be known as the Pope John Paul II Catholic School, with campuses at what are now the school buildings for Five Holy Martyrs and Our Lady of Fatima.

"As is our practice, the Office of Catholic Education (OCE) and the pastors and principals of the closing schools are working together to ensure that children affected will continue to have access to Catholic education," says Dr. Schuster. "Principals at Catholic schools which are located near closing schools will welcome all students affected by the closures."

"We are also working with the parents and school leaders of our consolidating schools in Brighton Park to ease the transition for all the students we hope will become part of the new school."

Dr. Schuster notes that the number of closures and consolidations are consistent with the number of schools that she estimated might close when she addressed the issue publicly over the past few months. In recent years, an average of five Catholic schools have closed each year in the Archdiocese, due, ordinarily, to declining enrollment and escalating tuition. A Special Task Force on Catholic Schools was commissioned several years ago to find long-term solutions that would stem the number of closings.

The Report of the Special Task Force, which was released last December, recommends several approaches to financing the schools beyond the present formula of tuition, fundraising and subsidies from the parishes and the Archdiocese. It recommends some form of reimbursement or public financial aid to parents who choose to send their children to non-government schools, a major gifts campaign of perhaps $100 million for all schools, more aggressive marketing, central purchasing, selective tuition increases and some consolidation of facilities.

"One of the biggest misconceptions about closings and consolidations is that they are the result of an executive fiat from the Office of Catholic Education," says Dr. Schuster. "Actually the impetus comes from the parish and school level when declining enrollment over a period causes pastors and principals to begin a process that often leads to a school closing."

The process usually begins when a pastor and principal inform the local dean, vicar (auxiliary bishop) and consultant from the Office of Catholic Education that a school is in jeopardy of closing. At the same time, the pastor and principal consult with parish and school leaders to discuss the possibility that the school may have to close.

"What happens next often depends on the individual situation at the school in question," notes Dr. Schuster. "If consultation among the parish and school leadership and the dean and vicar indicates that a strategy can be implemented to increase enrollment and keep the school viable, time is given to allow the school to stay open if a realistic plan is constructed.

"However," she adds, "if there is a general consensus that just about everything has been done that can be done, the pastor formally agrees with the vicar that the school should close."

Once a decision is made at the local level, the vicar meets with Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I., Archbishop of Chicago, who reviews the decision and then informs the Office of Catholic Education if it is necessary to announce the school’s closure.

None of the five Catholic schools set to close in June had met for some years the archdiocesan criteria of a minimum enrollment requirement of 225 students -- and none expected to reverse that trend in the near future. All five schools received grants from the Archdiocese over the past five years that amounted to approximately $2.95 million.

The need to restructure and consolidate Catholic schools in areas where the demand for Catholic education has changed was one of the key recommendations of the findings of the Special Task Force Report on Catholic Schools that was issued in December of 1998. As school numbers decline in some areas, growth continues in other areas of the Archdiocese.

Dr. Schuster has frequently commented on the realities that affect the Archdiocesan school system: declining enrollments in certain areas as populations move and systemwide inequities that arise due to varying abilities of parents and local parish communities to afford Catholic schools.

The Task Force Report recommended that areas with too many classrooms should downsize, and that, at the same time, a targeted, welcoming outreach effort to expand ethnic and racial populations should occur in areas with changing populations. Building and expansion is recommended in areas where demand for Catholic schools is high.

"The Archdiocese of Chicago is in the process of implementing and expanding on the recommendations of the Special Task Force," says Dr. Schuster. "The Report has sparked a renewed effort to ensure that Catholic education will still be available in all areas of the Archdiocese in years to come."

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