Fate of Catholic schools is in hands of community

  • Written by Joe Boyle


If there is one thing that is certain, a private school education can no longer be taken for granted. And for residents who have grown up in Chicago and the southwest suburbs, I can specifically point to Catholic schools.

I had worked for a Chicago paper for many years and reported on numerous closings. Since 2000, many schools have closed their doors due to low enrollment. In Chicago’s Gage Park neighborhood, both St. Clare of Montefalco and St. Simon have closed. St. Rita Grade School at 62nd and Fairfield in the city closed a few years before that.

Other elementary schools that have closed over the past 16 years in areas I covered include St. Denis, St. Thomas More, St. Turibius and St. Rene. All-girls Catholic high schools have closed in recent years. Lourdes High School was the first, followed by Immaculate Heart of Mary, Maria and Mount Assisi Academy.

And this year, the Chicago Archdiocese made an announcement last month that St. Louis de Montfort Elementary School, 8840 S. Ridgeland Ave., Oak Lawn, will close its doors in June. The reason given was low enrollment and that belief that the school could not sustain itself in the coming years.

Then we heard the crushing news about Queen of Peace High School at 7659 S. Linder Ave., Burbank. I had heard rumors the past few years that the school could be in trouble. Low enrollment was the main culprit. Queen of Peace was established in 1962 and could house as many as 1,400 students. The school now had less than 300 students.

At least there is some good news for underclassmen who attended Queen of Peace. The administration at St. Laurence High School, the all-boys Catholic high school that is located next door to Queen of Peace, will begin accepting students from that school beginning this fall. The logistics of how that will be done is still being worked out, but at least Queen of Peace students have another option. The only difference is that they will be attending St. Laurence High School.

A lot has changed since the 1960s when many Catholic schools had large enrollments during the height of the baby boomers. But many families began to move in the 1960s and 1970s to suburban communities. Many neighborhoods were in transition, changing from a majority white population to African-American. However, many of these black residents were not Catholic and did not attend these schools.

Another factor is that we have less nuns and priests. I recall being taught by a majority of nuns at St. Margaret of Scotland and St. John de La Salle, two Chicago grade schools I attended. But by the time my younger siblings were about to graduate from their Catholic grade schools, there were few nuns. Lay teachers who receive a salary replaced them. Catholic schools in the past did not have to worry about payment for the nuns. This became a growing expense for the archdiocese over the years, especially as enrollments began to dwindle because of higher tuition.

For some families, the higher tuition became too difficult to pay for. Consequently, that’s why so many of these schools have had to close. From 1984 through 2004, 130 elementary schools closed, according to the Chicago Archdiocese.

That is why I pull for schools like Our Lady of the Ridge, 10859 S. Ridgeland Ave., Chicago Ridge. This is never been a large school but teachers and staff who work there say the students are the first priority. Sr. Stephanie Kondik, the principal at Our Lady of Ridge who has served 23 years at the school, said she knows all the students by name. These youngsters, Sr. Stephanie said, are more than just a number. She said she cares for them all.

Other teachers have said that the school has a feeling of community and warmth. Sr. Stephanie said the students receive a great education and they are cared for.

But sometimes residents and even people who no longer have a close connection to old Catholic schools begin to take them for granted. Sometimes residents need to be shaken a little to realize what is at stake. A neighborhood could drastically change after a Catholic school closes. It could deter younger families who have children from moving into the neighborhood. Some businesses may decide to move elsewhere.

So I was happy to see 115 Bourbon Street in Merrionette Park jammed with people Sunday for a fundraiser with alumni, business and community leaders ready to do what is necessary to keep Our Lady of the Ridge open. Everyone was having a great time while collecting much needed cash.

The lesson learned here is to not take Our Lady of the Ridge for granted. I think that message is gotten through loud and clear.

Joe Boyle is the editor of The Reporter. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Leg amputation doesn't keep Oak Lawn native down

  • Written by Claudia Parker


laura heneghan photo 2-23

Submitted photo

Oak Lawn native Laura Heneghan enjoys herself on a vacation trip to Las Vegas.



Refusing to let go can be deadly!

For Laura Heneghan, of Lombard, it was holding on to a limb that nearly cost her life. The Oak Lawn native and 1987 Richards High School graduate said, “My legs were my best attribute. I received more compliments about my legs than anything else.”

Beyond the vanity of the matter, Laura had much deeper concerns about having her leg amputated. She was a mom of two elementary-aged children, her daughter, Courtney, 8, and her son, Jordan, 7.

“Will my kids love me without having a lap to sit in? Will I lose my friends? Will I feel like less of a person with only one leg?”

Laura said those thoughts plagued her. She prolonged the decision to have surgery until the infected tumor in her leg encapsulated her blood vessels causing the tumor to rupture. When that occurred, the infection penetrated her bone.

It was either her leg or her life.

“One of the most surprising revelations I had after my surgery was how much easier things became,” recalled Laura. “I felt a tremendous sense of relief. I wish I’d done it much sooner.”

Five years previous to the amputation, Laura was diagnosed with cancer. “Initially, I was misdiagnosed,” said Laura. “Doctors thought I had an adductor strain.”

An adductor muscle strain is an acute injury to the groin muscles on the medial aspect (inside) of the thigh. Her assumed injury was treated with physical therapy that included an ultrasound, heat and electrical muscle stimulation with hopes to bring blood back to the tissue for healing. However, Laura in fact had a malignant blood tumor. The therapy fed the tumor and it grew -- to the size of a softball.

An aggressive radiation regimen was administered by the well-respected Fermilab, known for treating advanced tumors difficult to reach or that have been slow to respond to other forms of treatment. Laura said the treatment was so potent it killed the cancer more rapidly than her lymph nodes could handle. Lymph nodes filter lymph of harmful pathogens such as bacteria and viruses. The nodes also filter out cellular waste, dead cells, and cancerous cells.

Laura’s dead cells were lying dormant in her leg wreaking havoc.

“My leg was enormously swollen, didn’t function and it left me in chronic pain,” said Laura. “I was on the strongest pain killers prescribed and I still felt pain.”

Laura said being on medication habitually left her groggy, emotional and isolated.

“My husband would have to take the kids to birthday parties and social outings without me because I was always too tired or in too much pain to go anywhere,” explained Laura.

Her best attribute had become her biggest adversary.

“I had to use crutches because my leg didn’t bend,” recollected Laura. “Even with crutches I was challenged because the weight of my leg was so heavy I’d have to drag it.”

The reality of waking from surgery to one less limb might have left most devastated, but Laura said that isn’t what she noticed was missing. “The pain was gone,” said Laura. “I actually felt relief.”

That wasn’t the only surprise Laura experienced.

Laura found she could propel forward on crutches much easier without hauling around dead weight. She also discovered that her children she worried wouldn’t be able to accept her enjoyed her much more after surgery.

“They loved seeing me happy and enjoying life again instead of laying around stagnant, in pain and sleeping all the time.”    

Laura added that, “God brought me through it. He put people in my life that gave me love, support and encouragement. From my mom sitting by my hospital bedside, my kids helping change bandages, and my church family and friends getting me out of the house. God sent help.”

Laura said surviving cancer and getting through her amputation gave her a renewed sense of passion and purpose. After having been a stay-at-home mom she went back to school and earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Trinity Christian College. She started working in school District 124 in 2001. She first taught English Language Learners and now she is an ELL coach.

“Never underestimate the power of what you can do with God’s help,” said Laura. “Don’t ever give up on yourself.”

This December, Laura’s slated to walk across the stage to receive a master’s in Educational Leadership with a Principal endorsement. She’s spoken at a half dozen conferences on a national and state level, teaching educators how to gain a deeper understanding of students where English is a second language.

Laura learned that losing her leg didn’t cripple her, it was holding on to it that was. Now she has a life she didn’t know she could experience.

The first time I saw Laura I was getting out of my car with my purse, laptop and camera bag. It was heavy and difficult to carry and I felt bogged down by the load until I looked up. Laura was walking across the parking lot with a purse, workbag, stack of papers, and a coffee. She was walking on one leg, on crutches. Did I mention she was in a stylish dress wearing a matching sandal that had the nerve to have a high heel?

How dare I complain about what I had to carry. I was walking on two legs with a pair of flat shoes.

I wanted to share Laura’s story because it’s such a great example for anyone refusing to let go of dead weight. Maybe for you it’s a relationship, business, profession or job title. Maybe at one point the attachment was an attribute, but now it’s your nemesis. It’s time to detach from that which is dead so you can live again.

You can learn more about Laura following her blog at

Claudia Parker is an author, photographer and a reporter. Her columns appear every second and fourth Thursday of each month. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .


Dare we say it? Spring is not far away

  • Written by Joe Boyle
As we enter the middle of February, I began to think we are entering a period of anticipation. The Super Bowl, the Patriots comeback and Lady Gaga is now a memory. Chance the Rapper, from Chicago’s South Side, collected some Grammy Awards on Sunday night. Hey, that’s great. I can’t say I know a lot about Chance the Rapper. He did do a series of TV promos for the Chicago White Sox last summer and threw out the first ball on opening day. I’m glad he is a White Sox fan and his spots called for the team to “step up.” Obviously, they didn’t. The Academy Awards are coming up on Sunday, Feb. 26. I will probably watch at least some of it. I like to watch to get an idea of what some of the better films of the past year were. Some of the recipients who receive Oscars could be longtime favorites who finally receive the honor. And perhaps you are rooting for a certain film or actor because you have actually seen the movie. In many cases, I have seen very few or none at all. This past year, I did see “Arrival” starring Amy Adams. I thought it was a great film and worthy of being nominated for Best Picture. Adams is not up for Best Actress but probably should have. What that means for me is that this movie is the only one I saw that is up for an award. The only reason I’m going on about the Academy Awards is that that is the only big event coming up in the near future. But if I have not seen many of the movies, my interest level drifts, especially when the awards show clocks in at three hours. It may be time to channel surf. Perhaps there might be a limited series on HBO that is coming up that may catch my interest. Netflix has an interesting lineup of shows to view as well. For college basketball fanatics, “March Madness” is approaching. I hear a lot of discussion about tournament picks and who may win and so on and so on. Even former President Obama would be interviewed on ESPN and other sports programs about his choices. I read and watch TV reports with some curiosity over the enthusiasm some sports reporters and broadcasters show over the “Big Dance.” Personally, I just don’t get that pumped about the tournament. I guess I’m not a big basketball fan anyway and less so when it comes to college. I just don’t follow it. At one time I was more interested if I knew someone who was playing at that level. If there were athletes my kids or nieces or nephews knew, I would show more interest. But that’s about it. One sport I’m not thinking about is football. The Patriots won the Super Bowl but I think we can give football a rest for a while. I think I saw somewhere that someone is counting off the days for football training camp in June. I can’t believe that. Maybe this person is a Patriots fan. He can’t be a Bears fan. I’m not counting the days for football training camp to see stories on the Bears, who finished 3-13 last year. This is the time of the year when I actually start thinking about spring, which is still a month away. The Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox actually began spring training this week in Arizona. All major league teams began their workouts this week in Arizona and Florida. For me, that’s something to look forward to. Yes, we have had a mild winter so far. We have only had just over 18 inches of snow this winter and the majority of that came in December. Maybe the unseasonably warm temperatures have me thinking more about spring. Of course, I have lived here long enough to know that the weather can change in a hurry. Hey, we can always hope. February is a short month and perhaps March can enter and exit more like a lamb. That means baseball, watching a variety of sporting events, and taking walks at our local parks and forest preserves. Spending more time outdoors and actually seeing the sun more often would be a welcoming sight indeed. I look forward to that, with great anticipation. Joe Boyle is the editor of The Reporter. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Memories of snowy days, watching from the window

  • Written by Janet Boudreau

If you're from Chicago, know someone from Chicago, or want to be from Chicago, then you've heard of the Great Blizzard of '67. For those of you from Des Moines or farther west, just know it was a huge deal. On Jan. 26, 1967, snow began falling and did not dissipate for 29 hours. Approximately 23 inches fell. The front pages of the newspapers showed abandoned and mostly buried cars littering the streets and expressways. Time seemed to stand still. Well, maybe not time itself but just about everything else.

I was just a little girl then, a scrappy 7-year-old with braids and freckles. We lived out in the prairies, which are now the far western suburbs. I sat on the back of the sofa with my nose pressed to the window watching my sisters and the neighborhood kids sledding down the huge drifts in a sea of white. Every winter I had to sit out of a lot of outdoor activities due to severe asthma. So I watched, sometimes laughing as they tumbled off their sleds at the bottom of the hills and drifts. When they would come in red-faced and shivering, dropping their wet clothes near the back door, I would pick up a random mitten with bits of crusted snow and hold it to my cheek.

We have a cottage on a lake in Michigan. It's a year-round home and although our kids spent the first few winters ice skating and learning to ski, summer will always be the main draw. In an effort to get everyone up to the cottage last month, we put together a weekend sledding event for our family, including our two little granddaughters. We pulled out all of the old sleds from the garage rafters, bundled up in layers and headed off to a nearby state park.

In all of these years I've never sledded. I thought I broke my ankle the first time I stood on ice skates and skiing is pretty much a death wish as far as I'm concerned. Yet I never forgot that feeling of being left out years ago, wanting to feel that rush of air and thrill of almost flying as all the kids did during that blizzard. This time around I wanted to be the one sailing down the hill, rolling in the snow and laughing.

My daughter and I stood inside the warming shelter, which is much like a metal shed with windows. There's a huge stone fireplace and chopped wood if you are making a day of it. Emily held her little baby, Madelyn, just 3 months old, wrapped in layers and layers of warm blankets. We watched out the windows as our crazy family flew down the hill, screamed, tumbled, rolled and dragged themselves back up for...just one more!

I was wrapping my scarf around tighter, fixing my eyes on the top of the hill, ready to make that climb. Surprisingly, it was taking a lot more courage than I thought I would need. Then Emily turned to me.

"Mom, will you hold Madelyn? I want to give it a try." And suddenly I was looking into the eyes of another little girl, my Emily. The one always trying to catch up with her daredevil brothers; the tiny little girl who sat on the beach while everyone swam to the raft and dived off; Dad's little helper in cleaning up the boat every spring but rarely going on the lake. This was going to be a big deal. I took the baby from her and smiled. I watched through the window as she climbed the hill while I cradled and cooed to little Maddie. And I knew the thrill was all mine.

Janet Boudreau is a writer, blogger, and a longtime resident of Evergreen Park where she enjoys cooking, gardening, reading and generally anything that doesn't require a lot of energy. You can reach her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .


Our Lady of the Ridge supporters need to go to battle for their school

  • Written by Joe Boyle

Supporters of Our Lady of the Ridge Elementary School in Chicago Ridge are doing everything possible to keep their doors open. I'm not sure what their odds are, but at least they have a chance.

At this point, you have to accept the fact the Chicago Archdiocese has sent out a warning that the school could close if they are unable raise enough money and increase enrollment.

But St. Louis de Montfort Elementary School in Oak Lawn did not have that opportunity. Unfortunately, the enrollment numbers at the school had continued to plummet over the years. Administrators there probably saw no alternative. But I always feel sorry for the parents who send their children to these schools and then receive the shocking news.

The announcement to close St. Louis de Montfort occurred on Jan. 11, which is the same day that Our Lady of the Ridge received its warning. I have brought this up to several supporters and parents who have children attending Our Lady of the Ridge about the warning. The archdiocese believes there is hope that this school can remain open.

While the enrollment numbers have been low at Our Lady of the Ridge the past few years, there does seem to be an organized effort from the school administration and the parents. That is a positive sign. The school also held an open house on Sunday, Jan. 29 to begin Catholic Schools Week. Banners could be found in front of the school mentioning the open house. Banners and signs also could be seen touting the positive aspects of the school.

It is always difficult to say how the Chicago Archdiocese is leaning when it comes to closing schools. Queen of Peace, an all-girls high school in Burbank, is closing in June due to low enrollment numbers that the archdiocese believes will not turn around. Many parents and students found out through a series of robocalls on the night of Jan. 24.

I have seen many Catholic schools close within the past 16 years. The archdiocese has usually indicated that they would like to seen an enrollment at or near 225. But that is not always the case. I think it often comes down to what impact does the school have on the surrounding community at large. And can the staff and parents at Our Lady of the Ridge raise enough money to validate staying open?

Sr. Stephanie Kondik, principal at Our Lady of the Ridge, gushes when she talks about the parents and the students at the school. She has served as principal there for 23 years and believes the students receive a better education at Our Lady of the Ridge. Sr. Stephanie said that she and the staff know the students by name. She added that the appeal of Our Lady of the Ridge is that is a close-knit family.

Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar, a 1967 graduate of Our Lady of the Ridge, believes the school is like the heart of the community. For residents who have been raised in Chicago Ridge, Our Lady of the Ridge is important even if they did not attend the school. Tokar is confident that the archdiocese will allow Our Lady of the Ridge another chance because parents, community leaders and the business community have been raising money to keep it open.

The money aspect is important. I have seen some schools close whose enrollment numbers were higher but they had long-lasting debts. And some of the schools have closed because the archdiocese determined that they could not sustain enrollment growth.

But I have also seen schools with low enrollments who were able to raise lots of cash and remain open. St. Christopher School, 14611 S. Keeler Ave., Midlothian, was supposed to close at the end of 2014. But through an aggressive marketing campaign and the fact that supporters were able to raise money through businesses and donations, St. Christopher has remained open.

And this was a school that seemed certain to close. But graduates, the school staff and even the students fought against the odds and were able to convince the archdiocese to keep St. Christopher open.

So there is a precedent for Our Lady of the Ridge. The two key aspects are raising enough money and coming up with a long-term strategy to keep Our Lady of the Ridge viable. The archdiocese needs to be convinced that enough students will continue to go to the school and that the community remain involved.

The archdiocese has given Our Lady of the Ridge a chance. I think they believe it is worth preserving. It is now up to the school staff, the parents and the community. Without Our Lady of the Ridge, there would be no Catholic elementary school serving Chicago Ridge and nearby Worth.

Our Lady of the Ridge is needed in this community. I believe the archdiocese will ultimately agree.

Joe Boyle is the editor of The Reporter. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .