News of the closing of St. Bernadette Catholic Academy came as a shock to parents, teachers and students, but Evergreen Park Mayor Jim Sexton isn’t ready to throw in the towel.
Sexton hoped to meet this week with Principal Arlene Baumann and the Rev. Benedykt Pazdan, St. Bernadette’s pastor, to discuss options for keeping the school open.
“I think we deserve to sit down and talk,” Sexton said Monday.
School parents were informed Friday of the decision by the Archdiocese of Chicago to close the 64-year-old school. The news was delivered by Sr. Mary Paul McCaughey, superintendent of Catholic schools for the archdiocese.
Sexton, who attended the meeting, said the parish community must at least try to save the school, which he described as “a tremendous part of the community.” He said he has not met with parents, as he does not want to raise their hopes. He attended Friday’s meeting at a parent’s request.
“Nothing is promised at this time,” said Sexton, who added that he needed more information before discussing specific solutions.
“I’m wondering if there’s an alternative (to closing),” he said. “The kids deserve us to discuss it.”
Baumann said Monday that parents responded to the news with a mix of shock and resignation.
“It’s a very close community. The school is truly like a family,” Baumann said Monday morning before visiting classrooms to discuss the news.
Baumann, principal for the past 14 years, said the decision to close was solely a financial one—a disappointment because the school consistently has high test scores, a diverse student body and uses advanced technology tools.
Baumann said she did receive advanced news of the decision, adding that she attended a meeting with diocesan officials in December during which plans for next school year were discussed.
She said that the school will not grieve the decision throughout the remainder of the year.
“We’re going to have a celebration,” she said. “We have great plans for the next five months.”
Over the past five years, the Chicago Archdiocese has contributed more than $100 million to operate its school system over and above what local parishes contributed. Continued support at that level is unsustainable, the diocese said in a statement.
The families of the 775 children affected by the closures of St. Bernadette and five other elementary schools will be encouraged to transfer their children to nearby Catholic schools and offered tuition discounts to offset any inconvenience, the diocese said.
Evergreen Park also is served by Most Holy Redeemer, Queen of Martyrs and St. John Fisher schools.
“We are committed to providing a high-quality educational and faith formation experience to every child in our schools,” McCaughey said in a statement. “By focusing our resources on schools that are well positioned to attract an optimum enrollment level and equipped to meet the needs of a modern curriculum we can help ensure this network will remain sustainable over the long term.”
Pazdan said St. Bernadette parish will remain “vibrant” despite the school’s closing.
“Though our school is closing, our church and parish will remain open and continue to be a vibrant place where we gather together as a community to profess our faith. Even though we are joining the ranks of Catholic parishes that do not operate a school, St. Bernadette will continue to provide religious education to our children,” Pazdan said in a statement. “Catholic schools will continue to fulfill the mission of nourishing our children both intellectually and spiritually, but, sadly, not here in our parish.”