St. Cornelius School in final month before it closes doors
by BRIAN NADIG
Saint Cornelius School, which will close in June, should be remembered for its 4,318 graduates, many of whom had successful careers and raised families in the area, according to the school’s former principal Marge Campbell.
"We’ve made our mark on the community," Campbell said. She has served as a teacher, administrator and volunteer coordinator of alumni events at Saint Cornelius for 49 years.
Notable graduates include Mariano’s grocery store founder Bob Mariano, Holy Cross Catholic Church pastor Mark Stec and Saint Gabriel Church pastor Rich Creagh.
The 90-year-old school will be consolidated this fall with three other Northwest Side parochial schools, Our Lady of Victory, Saint Pascal and Saint Tarcissus, due to declining enrollment in the schools. The school buildings at Saint Cornelius, 5252 N. Long Ave., and Our Lady of Victory, 4434 N. Laramie Ave., will be closed, and the new Pope Francis Global Academy will operate on the campuses of Saint Tarcissus, 6040 W. Ardmore Ave., and Saint Pascal, 6143 W. Irving Park Road.
The Saint Cornelius Family School and Alumni/Friends associations will hold an event with the theme "Celebrating 90 Years of Memories" at 3 p.m. Saturday, May 21. An open house, which includes tours of the school and displays of memorabilia, will be held from 3 to 4 p.m. and from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., with a mass at 4:30 p.m.
A dinner and a raffle for adults will be held from 5:30 to 11 p.m. in the Pacocha Center. Tickets cost $20 in advance and $25 at the door.
It is not known what will happen to the school building, but last year a proposal was made to covert the convent into a living facility for seniors.
Longtime school secretary Marge Morris, who graduated in 1971, recalled how the convent was off limits to students unless they had a piano lesson there or had forgotten their lunch, as the nuns would make bologna sandwiches. She said that when she started working at Saint Cornelius, it was "kind of a big deal" to her when she first entered the convent, but by that time the nuns were no longer living there.
Campbell said that recent conversations with alumni start out with "I’m so sad" to learn about the school’s closing but that the talk quickly switches to how well Saint Cornelius prepared them for life.
"My favorite memory of Saint Cornelius were the BVM (Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary) nuns who taught us every year and inspired us to reach our fullest potential intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. Their dedication to their vocation of serving the Lord so faithfully rubbed off on me and definitely helped me to begin to think about the possibility of becoming a priest," Creagh, a 1964 graduate of the school, wrote in an alumni newsletter.
It has been more than 25 years since BVM nuns taught at Saint Cornelius, but Creagh’s comments reflect how the commitment of the school’s teachers have led to the success of the school, which received a U.S. Department of Education "Blue Ribbon Award" in 2015, Campbell said. "Several of our retired teachers still come around and volunteer," she said. "Some of them are here on a very regular basis."
The school opened on Dec. 2, 1926, with three nuns and 100 students, but within 3 years enrollment grew to 350. Saint Cornelius reached its highest enrollment in the 1960s with about 850 students. The enrollment now is 135.
Over the years the school adjusted to the changing needs of families, including the addition of preschool and extended-day care, but several factors, including higher tuition and smaller parish families, contributed to the decrease in enrollment, Campbell said. "When I started to teach, there were more families of five or six," she said.