Chicago Heights’ St. Kieran school closing amid Archdiocese of Chicago budget cuts
BY CASEY TONER firstname.lastname@example.org March 1, 2013 6:48PM
St. Kieren School in Chicago Heights, IL on Monday February 25, 2013. It will close later this year | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 4, 2013 6:20AM
As the second half of the school year winds down, faculty, parents and students at St. Kieran School in Chicago Heights are wondering where they’ll go next.
The school is set to close in June after 51 years of educating students from across the Southland.
“I didn’t want it to close,” said Lenell Navarre, an eighth-grader at the school and the son of Bloom Township High School District 206 Supt. Lenell Navarre. “Something like this happens and you can’t believe it.”
St. Kieran is one of five schools in the Archdiocese of Chicago closing due to budget cuts which, along with a $10 million cut in aid to schools, is expected to save up to $20 million in the coming years. The other schools set to close are St. Gregory the Great High School, St. Bernardine Elementary School, St. Helena of the Cross Elementary School and St. Paul-Our Lady of Vilna Elementary School.
The archdiocese also is eliminating 75 positions and cutting back on loans and grants to save money.
“Like so many other families and institutions, the Archdiocese of Chicago has suffered during the economic downturn of these past few years,” Cardinal Francis George said in announcing the cuts.
The decision to shut down St. Kieran School was made in December as it faced declining enrollment and soaring financial obligations. St. Kieran has accumulated more than $1 million in debt. Every year it stays open, the debt was expected to increase by an additional $200,000 to $300,000.
“It truly is that you just financially can’t do it after awhile,” said St. Kieran and St. Agnes pastor John Siemanowski. “The income doesn’t equal the expenses.”
School Principal Anthony Simone said about 127 students attend St. Kieran. The enrollment is down dramatically from 2001 when 230 students attended the school.
Simone said the lower enrollment is related to tuition expenses and a down economy. With annual tuition set at $4,500 to $5,000, many parents can’t afford the price, especially with the jobs that have left Chicago Heights.
“All the factories closed,” Simone said. “When you had Ford and GM cooking, this place was packed because you had jobs and people working all the time.”
St. Kieran School had its first classes in 1962 and its first graduating class in 1966. The school opened years after the church was built.
The school was built one block east of Halsted Street so that priests who lived in the rectory, which was also built before the school, wouldn’t have to walk far, Simone said.
Since the school has opened, it has offered a traditional math, reading and science-based education. Religion classes also are part of the curriculum and all students go to Mass every Wednesday.
The school also boasts an impressive list of alumni, including prominent NorthShore University Health System oncologist Mark Talamonti, WGN anchor Brian Noonan, and Philadelphia Eagles left tackle Dennis Kelly, who visited the school in May.
Sister Mary Paul McCaughey, superintendent of schools for the archdiocese, said in a statement that her organization supports St. Kieran’s request to close the school.
She also said the parish has provided “years of generous support in underwriting Catholic education at the site.”
Simone said he is “heartbroken” over the decision to close St. Kieran.
“It’s a sad thing,” Simone said, adding that he hoped to work in another Catholic school. “Catholic schools are good places.”
Nina Grant, a sixth-grader at St. Kieran, said she would attend Infant Jesus of Prague in Flossmoor next year. She said she didn’t believe the news about the school closing at first.
“Then I found out the truth and I was really sad,” Grant said.
Chicago Heights resident Kristin Kassela compared the school’s closing to a “break up.” Her seventh-grade son Matthew and fifth-grade daughter Sophia attend the school.
Next year, they will attend Cardinal Joseph Bernardin Catholic School in Orland Hills.
“These people you see regularly are not going to be around anymore,” Kassela said. “You’re not going to see them very much and it’s sad.”