Four NW Side parishes agree to consolidation
by BRIAN NADIG
The Archdiocese of Chicago’s consolidation plan for the Northwest Side will include four schools, while two of the six parishes invited to join the merger plan opted to keep their school independent.
Saint Tarcissus School is the last school to join the regional consolidation. A parish vote taken Feb. 19 was overwhelmingly in favor of the school joining the merger, according to a school council member at Saint Tarcissus.
Saint Cornelius, Saint Pascal and Our Lady of Victory schools also have joined the consolidation plan, while Saint Thecla and Saint Constance schools decided to continue operating independently. The schools which opted out of the merger plan no longer will be eligible for financial aid, including scholarship funds, from the archdiocese.
Archdiocese officials have said that at least two of the schools that consolidate must close for the regional plan to be feasible and that the newly constituted schools under the plan will be renamed. Each of the four schools in the regional plan is expected to remain open for the 2015-16 school year, as the consolidation will start in the fall of 2016.
"While the regional planning process was originally designed to address current and near future enrollment and economic challenges in your area, it is also the case that this initiative provides us with a unique opportunity to build on the strengths of each school participating in this effort," Archbishop Blase Cupich said in a Feb. 20 letter to the four parishes that chose to consolidate. "The archdiocese will walk this journey with you with the aim of deepening the sense of Catholic mission, advancing the academic rigor and excellence, ensuring program innovation and creating a welcoming culture for a diverse community of learners. Choosing this journey was not easy, and I want to extend my sincere gratitude for your boldness, faith and willingness to participate."
The schools that joined the regional plan had to do so without knowing which school building will remain open. A regional planning board consisting of representatives of each school is being asked to make facility and curriculum decisions, and the archdiocese will serve as the arbitrator if panel members cannot come to a consensus.
"I believe the hardest part of embracing the regional plan for quality Catholic education will be to let go of previous conceptions about this important part of our experience of church, and re-imagine what Catholic education is to be in the future," Saint Cornelius Parish pastor the Reverend Dan Fallon said in a letter to members of the parish.
Only one of the six parishes that were invited to join the consolidation plan has an enrollment greater that the "benchmark" of 230 students which the archdiocese’s Office of Catholic Schools considers necessary for a viable school, Fallon wrote in the letter. The archdiocese wants to have a regional school with two classrooms per grade.
A member of one of the parishes which joined the regional plan said that many families at the school are keeping their educational options open. She said that some of the children in the parish have tested for admission to a gifted or magnet program in the Chicago Public Schools.
Each of the schools in the regional project is being asked to conduct an assessment of its facility, curriculum and level of parish support.
"This process will require strength and sacrifice, as each parish has distinctive programs and identities," the pastors of the four schools wrote in a joint letter. "The goal is not to minimize these cultures, but to honor and preserve their unique and vital qualities, so that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole."
A statement released by Saint Thecla states, "After much reflection and prayer we decided to continue growing and developing our school as it has always been known, ‘a neighborhood parish school.’ This is consistent with Saint Thecla’s rich history, and we remain committed to provide the best faith-based education for our children."
Archdiocese officials have said that the schools which opt out of the regional plan will be subject to being closed if they run a deficit. Saint Thecla has not been receiving financial aid from the archdiocese, but a portion of the parish’s general fund is used for school expenditures.
Saint Tarcissus posted the following statement on its Facebook page: "We are thankful during this difficult time for everyone’s insight and patience, but most of all, for the love they have demonstrated for Catholic education. Moving forward, we are excited that the plans we develop will allow our children to continue that wonderful tradition to receive an education not only grounded in solid academics but also grounded in the tenets of Christ."