For St. Bernadette and Mt. Assisi…SCHOOLS OUT FOREVER

  • Written by Declan Harty

PAGE-1-2-and-a-half-col-chiars-on-desksChairs are placed on the top of desks at St. Bernadette in Evergreen Park (above) for the final time as the school closed to the public on Saturday. Sheridan and Megan Kirkland (below) pose with a half-headed anatomy dummy in the science room on Saturday. Both graduated from St. Bernadette. Megan graduated from Mt. Assisi, which is also closing, and Sheridan was a freshman at the Lemont high school. Photo by Jeff Vorva.Page-1-or-Page-5-2-and-a-half-col-kirklans-science

Closing schools host their final open houses

Over the past 65 years, countless opportunities to receive an education in the community have been available. Whether the school is public or private, a high school or a grade school, the selections seem endless. 

Two of these schools, though, have closed their doors for the final time. Both Mt. Assisi Academy, located at 13860 Main St. in Lemont, and St. Bernadette Catholic Academy at 9311 S. Francisco Ave. in Evergreen Park, have held their final classes and will not reopen in the fall. The schools’ communities celebrated their legacies with St. Bernadette on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. 

It was a 24-hour period of laughs and tears and many memories.

St. Bernadette
St. Bernadette Catholic Academy, which has been open since 1949, according to the school’s website, held a final celebration, which included a mass and a picnic-like event for students, families, alumni and faculty and staff of the school.
Sister Mary Paul McCaughey, superintendent of the schools for the archdiocese, met with parents in January to announce the decision to close the school citing enrollment as the principal reason.
The current enrollment for this past year was 98 students at St. Bernadette, a number that has consistently declined. When the school opened in 1949, there were 365 students in 12 classrooms, and a little over a decade later in 1965 there was 1,257 students enrolled at the school, according to the school’s website.
But in recent years, graduating classes have dwindled to minimal numbers. Sheridan Kirkland said her graduating class from St. Bernadette in 2013 was eight and the class of 2012 was four students.
PAGE-1-1-col-COLOR-Sister Sister Mary VenturaMegan Kirkland graduated from St. Bernadette in 2007 and Mt. Assisi in 2011. Both Sheridan and Megan said the rumors of the school closing have been around since Megan graduated in 2007.
“For St. Bernadette, when I was in sixth grade they gave us a two year guarantee that they would not close and that ended when I was in eighth grade,” Sheridan said. “So that is probably why they closed this year because that was the end of it.”
Sister Mary Ventura was honored at the celebration’s mass for her service to St. Bernadette’s community. Evergreen Park Mayor Jim Sexton read a proclamation to her. Ventura has been at St. Bernadette for 30 years and said she is pleased with how much the school has done for the community.
“The school has done so much for children in the area,” she said. “I’m really happy with what we have done.”
Despite the school’s closing, the parish will remain open, and continue to serve the community.
“I feel like now people don’t as much associate themselves with what parish they are from,” Megan Kirkland said. “But I feel like at least because we still have the church we still have the community. Even though everyone knew Bernadette was going to be closing it is still really hard when you hear the news.”
Those who had a chance to mill about in the humid hallways and classrooms for one last time on Saturday had bittersweet reactions.
One woman with a camera stopped by the principal’s office and smiled.
“I don’t need to go in there,” she said. “I know what it looks like. I have been in there enough when I went to school here.”

 Mt. Assisi Academy

Since 1951, Mt. Assisi Academy’s steep hillside front to its 60-acre campus has been a notable option for a Catholic school all-girls education. On Sunday, the Mt. Assisi community celebrated the school’s history and legacy as the school shut its doors on May 23.
“It is a day of a lot of mixed emotions,” said Sister Therese Ann Quigney, provincial superior of the School Sisters of St. Francis of Christ the King. “Certainly we are sad to see that we can’t go on. But we are also gratified to see the outpouring of gratitude and spirit…It will live on. Even though the institution is gone, the spirit and the relationships will live on.”
The celebration began with a liturgy of Thanksgiving and Closing at the back of the campus on the school’s soccer fields to a crowd of approximately 1,550 people, according to Carrie Peters, development manager of Mt. Assisi and a mother of three daughters who have attended the school.
Many of the girls who are still enrolled in high school will be attending different catholic institutions such as Queen of Peace, Marist and Mother McAuley and public schools as well, according to both Peters and Gail Andjulis, vice president of the boosters vice president and mother of two daughters.
But despite the loss that is faced in losing a school, Peters said she was not surprised that the school was closing.
“I think even when my oldest daughter was here, the sisters would send home letters. They were always asking for help,” she said. “I think they were pretty clear, at least I felt like it all the way along in that ‘now is the time’, ‘we need help’ and ‘please donate’… Anybody can look at the enrollment numbers and know that it is hard to run a school with 140 girls.”
The school’s low enrollment numbers are a mere fraction of what the peak enrollment was in the school’s history. In the mid-1970s, enrollment exceeded 700 students, according to Quigney. The decision to close the school was announced to the public in a letter by her on the school’s website in late January.
Sheridan Kirkland of Evergreen Park will be a sophomore next year at Mother McAuley, after finishing her freshman year at Mt. Assisi. Kirkland said the decision to close the school was based on the entrance exam for the upcoming school year, and there were ten less girls than were needed.
According to Kim Johnson Quinn, president of Mt. Assisi Academy, the skills and the time the girls have spent at the school will continue on in their transfers and in their future.
“I know the girls are prepared, whether they have had one year here or three years here, they have the confidence and ability to go on and transfer and accomplish some great things in the world,” she said.
As for the school itself, the future remains undecided. The School Sisters of St. Francis of Christ the King own the 60-acre campus, but officials say no decision has been made about the property.
Quigney said that she has had a variety of favorite memories in her 44 years at Mt. Assisi. Some of which include Kairos trips and leading the newspaper club at the school, but she said most importantly she loved seeing the girls flourish.
“Seeing the girls grow, and getting confident. You watch that all the time, and that is what part of today is all about. Seeing that powerful spirit of these ladies, and knowing we were part of that,” she said. “I am looking forward to seeing what the next piece will be and how what we have done already will form the foundation for that.”

 Kirkland girls suffer a double whammy

 Megan Kirkland and Sheridan Kirkland learned in January that both their grade school and high school would close at the end of the spring semesters. 

The two met for the first time Saturday night at an open house for St. Bernadette in Evergreen Park. They sat in a humid science lab at St. Bernadette and found out that they not only shared a last name, but a rare fact that they would both lose their grade school alma mater and also their initially chosen high school, Mt. Assisi.
Sheridan, who lives in Chicago, finished her freshman year of high school at Mt. Assisi in Lemont and will transfer to Mother McAuley Liberal Arts High School in the fall because of the school’s closing. Megan, who lives in Evergreen Park, will enter her senior year at University of Minnesota in the fall after graduating from Mt. Assisi in 2011 and St. Bernadette in 2007.
For both Megan and Sheridan, the schools offered a community that others cannot because of their size.
“It is just like creating the community within the school, we were not separated by age or class,” Megan said of the atmosphere at Mt. Assisi.
Though the girls share no relation, they said they are a part of a larger population that has been affected by both schools. Sheridan said there was a lot of crying going on at the Lemont school.
The Kirkland girls said that at Mt. Assisi, their favorite memories included the school spirit, Kairos retreats and the atmosphere created by activities such as big and little sister day. Sheridan described that day as an opportunity for freshman and seniors to match up and bond through activities and games for a day to help make freshman at home.
For St. Bernadette, the girls stressed that the smaller class sizes and environment allowed them to make relationships that may last a lifetime.
“I think the best thing about Bernadette is not a memory, but the fact that because it is such a small school that you really do become friends with everyone,” Megan said. “It really did form friendships and life long lasting relationships.”
There were rumors of both closing in recent years, and with Sheridan’s 2013 St. Bernadette graduating class at eight students, she said she was not too surprised by the Evergreen Park school’s closing. However, both Megan and Sheridan said they thought Mt. Assisi had a few more years to operate.
“Everyone was really shell shocked, the moment we heard everyone was in tears. It was really sad,” Sheridan said of the day that students at Mt. Assisi heard of the closing.
Sheridan said that following a meeting the night before, students were taken into small groups with faculty and staff where they discussed the best way to make the most out of the remaining time at Mt. Assisi.
For Megan, Mt. Assisi was especially difficult because of her location. Megan studied abroad in Kenya this past semester, and found out about Mt. Assisi’s closing there. She said that she had not expected the closing to happen so soon.
“Mt. Assisi totally took me by surprise,” Megan said. “I think because of that shock it has been really difficult because these are places that formed us as people for 12 years and are closing.”





Jeff Vorva's imPRESSions: Two schools close and a farmers market opens


Jeffs-Col-ImpressionsI’ve often told people that one of the joys of working in this dying profession is that no two days of work are the same.
You start your day off with a plan and more often than not, the plan changes because you just can’t predict the news. There have been a few occasions that I was moving stories around and reporter Bob Rakow and I were writing a few minutes before deadline because some major news story had the audacity to break right when we were fluffing up the pillows ready to put the paper to bed.
Even when there are events planned, no two days are the same.
There is a three-day span coming up thatPAGE-3-2-col-JVcolThere were good times at Mt. Assisi over the years but the school will host a Thanksgiving and Closing Mass on Sunday. Photo courtesy of Mt. Assisi Facebook page. will feature some emotional punches for different reasons.
On Saturday, the month of May ends and so does St. Bernadette School. The Evergreen Park school is closing its doors because of financial woes, and there will be a 4 p.m. Mass at the church and a celebration and open house from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. for people to tour and visit the classrooms one more time. And there will be free pizza.
It will be a day of mixed emotions.
School closings are feel-bad stories on so many levels.
On Sunday, June will be busting out all over. It will be a new month!
And there will be another school closing to deal with, darn it.
At 11 p.m., more than 1,500 people are expected to drive up the hill one more time for the Thanksgiving and Closing Mass at Mt. Assisi Academy in Lemont, which has had a lot of students from our area attend over the years.
The outdoor Mass will be followed by hot dogs and hamburgers available for purchase. Like with St. Bernadette the day before, there will be tours of the old classrooms on that day.
That brings us to Monday.
After two sad end-of-an-era days in a row, Monday will bring us a dawn of a new era.
Chicago Ridge, a town that is celebrating its 100th anniversary, will host its first farmers market.
While it can’t equate with the importance of school closings, it is still a pretty cool thing. Farmers markets have been staples in some communities for years. People love them.
So starting at 2 p.m. on Monday at 10739 S. Ridgeland Ave., Chicago Ridge will host its first Working Man’s Farmers Market until 7 p.m.
The CR bosses are calling it “unique and convenient for all.”
Stuff for sale include beef, chicken, turkey, pork, egg, herbs, honey, breads, cupcake, tamales, kettle corn, soaps and hot dogs.
The market will run the first and third Mondays of each month until Oct. 6.

Nun left?
With the closing of Mt. Assisi, Chicago Ridge reader Rita Pratl posed an interesting question in an e-mail she sent our way.
“Since we heard the heartbreaking news of the school’s closure, I’ve been contemplating something -- where is the next closest school that has religious women [nuns] in habits teaching in the classroom?’’ she said. “I’ve actually asked several people, and I haven’t heard of any yet.  Is there a school on the North Side?  Is there a school in our neighboring states?  It’s truly an end to an era, a sad end.  The connection between young girls and sisters is really amazing.
“They converse about topics in today’s world that young girls need to sort through, they joke and tease each other a bit, and they pray together regularly.  It’s a truly amazing connection.  I attend many events at school and at each one -- dances, awards ceremonies, graduations, etc. -- you can see a student hugging a nun and it’s a wonderful sight to behold. There is something both magical and holy that happens up on that beautiful hill.”

First ImPRESSions
Last week, the old column title of “Editor’s Notebook” and even older photo of me have been replaced.
When I wrote for the Regional, I was fine with the unimaginative “Reporter’s Notebook” because I couldn’t come up with anything better. Several times I encouraged the former Reporter editor, Jason Maholy, to write a column and call it “a bunch of Maholy.”
I’ve been able to come up with good ideas for others.
For me?
Not so good.
Well, it was finally time for a change so I cooked up this idea of posing with my press pass and calling the column “Forgive us our Press Passes’’ but I fell out of love with that bright idea about 24 hours later.
So, stuck with a photo of me with a press pass, I settled on “ImPRESSions” over “Full Court Press.”
Not great, but it beats the heck out “Editors Notebook.’’
Hopefully the column will stay funny, unusual and insightful.

Full disclosure
We never want to deceive the public and using the magic of the computer to change a picture is something I usually forbid.
But I requested to our fine designer, Kari Nelson, to make the press pass in my hand a little bigger so that you can actually see the word “PRESS” on it. See, the pass is so small and I am so…Hmmm, how can I put this so I don’t sound like I am full of blubber? Oh yeah…majestic that you could hardly see the card.
So she jacked it up a little and I am owning up to our little bit of trickery.
Now if we can just get rid of some of that gray on my melon…


OL Park district boss ‘hurt’ by mayor’s remarks

  • Written by Bob Rakow

  Kelly said her department cares about seniors
Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury’s latest comments about the status of a new village senior center didn’t sit well with the head of the park district.

  Park District Director Maddie Kelly said she was hurt my remarks Bury made at the May 13 village board meeting that seniors “are getting screwed” as politics get in the way of a proposed series of land exchanges and purchases that would lead to the development of a new senior center.
  The proposed land exchanges and purchases involve the village, a Lutheran church, the park district and an Oak Lawn car dealership.
  “I’m hurt because she’s making it sound like we don’t care about seniors,” Kelly said.
  Quite the opposite is true, Kelly said.
  Seniors routinely gather at several park district facilities to participate in structured activities or to informally socialize, Kelly said.
  “They recreate at our facilities,” said Kelly, who added that seniors gather at the Pavilion, Stony Creek Golf Course, the Racquet Club and the Oak View Center.
  “We have some of the best senior activities,” Kelly said.
  Bury agrees that the park district offers quality senior programming, but she’s looking for a permanent location that the seniors can call home.
  “I’m sorry that Miss Kelly feels hurt, but this isn’t about her feeling or my feeling but about the seniors of Oak Lawn,” Bury said. “If the (park) board doesn’t want to dialog, I respect their wishes. I don’t know what the harm is in discussing it. Adults work out their problems and have conversations.”
  Bury added that not all seniors can take advantage of park district programs. A dedicated senior center, however, would provide a place for all seniors to gather.
  The proposed land exchanges and purchases involved the village, park district, Mancari’s auto dealership, 4630 W. 95th St., and St. Paul Lutheran Church, 4660 W. 94th St.
  Under the terms of the proposal, St. Paul would sell a 61,740 square-foot parcel located adjacent to the church to Mancari’s, who would deed the property to the village. The village, in turn, would deed the property to the park district.
  Mancari’s would then negotiate with the park district to purchase a 41,862 square-foot parcel located between the dealership and the Oak Lawn Ice Arena. The village would then negotiate with the park district and Mancari’s to secure the funds needed to build the senior center.
  The agreement would give the park district additional open space and provide Mancari’s room to expand its landlocked dealership, Bury said.

Dynamite found in EP basement

  • Written by Bob Rakow


A cleanup necessitated by a basement sewage leak led to a surprising discovery of 50 pounds of dynamite last Wednesday morning at a home in Evergreen Park.
The finding led police to evacuate nearby homes, reroute traffic, lockdown a floor-block area and call for nearby schools to keep students inside.
The Cook County Bomb Squad was called and removed the dynamite after a bomb-sniffing dog confirmed the existence of explosives, police said.
The 24 sticks of dynamite had been stored for more than 60 years in a suitcase in a house in the 9700 block of Hamlin Avenue, according to police.
The 93-year-old owner of the home agreed to store the explosives for a friend who worked in construction and was moving out of state. He knew the dynamite was still in his home, but did not know how to dispose of it, according to reports.
But when last week’s sewage leak forced a basement cleanup, he asked his caregiver to dispose of the suitcase. The caregiver called Evergreen Park police after the man told her the suitcase contained dynamite, police said.
The bomb squad later destroyed the dynamite at the Thornton Quarry, Donovan said. There were no injuries and no charges filed, police said.
The homeowner spent the day at his niece’s home near Midway Airport until returning in the late afternoon, police said.


My funny Valentine

  • Written by Claudia Parker

PAGE-1-4-col-funnyOff Off Broadzway, an all-female burlesque parody troupe featuring Oak Lawn native Jill Valentine (right) will be a part of the Women’s Funny Fest starting next Thursday in Chicago. Submitted photo.Oak Lawn woman heads up comedy fest

It’s about time.

Oak Lawn native Jill Valentine helped form the ChicagoJump-page-2-colOrland Park native Katie Rich (left photo) and Oak Lawn native Jill Valentine are major contributors to the 2014 Women’s Funny Fest in Chicago. Submitted photo. Woman’s Funny Festival in 2012.
She said the consensus among performers were, “Why haven’t we celebrated ourselves as women in comedy sooner?”
Better late than never.
This year’s edition of the fest will be held next Thursday through June 8 at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont in Chicago. There will be 70-plus shows and 400 performers during the four-day event with Orland Park native and “Saturday Night Live’’ writer Katie Rich headlining.
“Chicago is my favorite place in the whole world,” Rich said. “Some of my favorite ladies in comedy honed their craft here. It means a lot to me to headline this event.”
Valentine is an old hand at making people laugh and hosting large events that make people laugh.
She has been the Executive Director of the Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival since its in 2000. It’s said to be the largest sketch comedy festival ever seen in America. That success was used as a springboard for Valentine and co-founder Liz McArthur to launch the Chicago Women’s Funny Festival.
Valentine said she and McArthur wanted to build a comedy festival where women could come together to celebrate a buffet of comedy under one roof.
“Comediennes from around the world filled Stage 773’s four theaters every night [in 2012].’’ Valentine said. “The response from comedians and audience members was overwhelmingly positive – which is why the festival is coming back for its third year.”
In the last decade, women have increasingly gained respect in a genre that was mostly dominated by men.
Valentine graduated from Bradley University where she was scouted for her gift of competitive communication. She went into an improvisation program at Second City.
“Classes 15 years ago were about 1 percent female,” she said. “Now it’s at least 50 percent. We need to celebrate that.”
Rich prefers to let talent, as oppose to gender, speak for itself.
“One thing I hear a lot is, ‘Oh, she’s funny because she acts like a dude’ but I rarely hear, ‘Oh, he’s funny because he acts like a chick.’ Rich said. “When a male colleague writes a joke I don’t think is funny, my first thought isn’t, ‘That dude isn’t funny.’ My first thought is, ‘That joke isn’t funny.’