Midlothian parish vows to fight to keep school open
By Casey Toner email@example.com January 12, 2014 5:04PM
St. Christopher School in Midlothian is one of six schools Chicago's Archdiocese plans to close after this year. Parishioners plan to rally to save it. | Casey Toner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 14, 2014 6:23AM
Churchgoers at St. Christopher Parish in Midlothian vowed during Mass on Sunday to keep their school open despite its slated closure after the current school year.
“It’s time for us to put our faith into action,” the Rev. Kris Paluch, St. Christopher’s pastor, said during his homily before a packed congregation. “I believe we can save our school if we stay united and are willing to sacrifice.”
St. Bernadette Catholic Academy, 9311 Francisco Ave., Evergreen Park, and St. Christopher School, 14611 Keeler Ave., are among at least six schools Chicago’s Archdiocese has scheduled for closure. Sister Mary Paul McCaughey, superintendent of schools for the archdiocese, said the decision was “enrollment-driven.” Schools that are being targeted for closure are those with fewer than 225 students.
Paluch said the archdiocese has supported the school financially for three years. Last year, he signed another contract with the archdiocese to support the school for another three years before it was decided the financial aid would not continue. St. Christopher School has 215 students, up 50 students from the previous year.
In an effort to keep the school open another year, St. Christopher Parish will have a “save our school,” meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the church. During the Mass, parishioners were encouraged to fill out related questionnaires slipped into the shelves on the backs of the church pews.
The fliers asked parishioners if they believed the school should stay open, whether they were “spiritually, physically, and/or financially,” committed to keeping it open and if they had any suggestions to accomplish the goal.
John Clavio, a St. Christopher financial council member, urged his fellow parishioners to get involved. Clavio works as a real estate attorney in Frankfort.
“Closing the school is simply not an option,” Clavio said. “It is our obligation and we owe it to our children and to our young families who just joined St. Christopher.”
Both St. Bernadette and St. Christopher schools have long histories in their communities. St. Christopher School opened in 1924 with 60 students and was expanded over the years to accommodate a growing enrollment. Every year, the school hosts a well-known carnival fundraiser.
Connie Ramirez was at the 9:30 a.m. service with her daughter, Juliana, who graduated from St. Christopher School in 2012 and now attends Marist High School in Chicago. Ramirez said her daughter now is an honor-student in part because of her education at St. Christopher.
“It’s a great school,” Ramirez said. “I’m going to be at the meeting on Wednesday. I’m going to see how we can save it.”
St. Bernadette Catholic Academy opened in August 1949 with 365 students and enrollment grew to 1,257 by 1965, according to the parish website. It opened a preschool earlier than most of its peers.
While the tenor of the Mass at St. Christopher was one of hope, the parishioners at St. Bernadette seemed resigned to their school’s fate. Only 98 students attend St. Bernadette Catholic Academy.
“It is sad, but we are Christians,” the Rev. Benedykt Pazdan, of St. Bernadette, said during the 10:30 a.m. service, adding the parish will remain open. “We are people of hope. We will not give up.”
Mark Gertonson, of Evergreen Park, has three children at the school and called its closure “devastating.”
“You never want to see your school close,” he said.
Gertonson’s son Noah is a second-grader at the school.
“It’s like fun,” he said. “Recess is fine. Everything is fine here. Teachers are nice. ... St. Bernadette is my favorite school I ever went to.”