St. Christopher plans $2 million fund drive
BY STEVE METSCH email@example.com January 15, 2014 10:36PM
St. Christopher School Principal Maureen Wilson (middle) listens to the concerns of Paul and Julie Mikrut at the meeting to help keep the school open of Midlothian at St. Christopher Church on Wednesday in Midlothian. | Gary Middendorf/For Sun-Times Medi
Updated: February 17, 2014 8:41AM
One by one, they walked to the front of the church and placed sheets of paper into large baskets.
On each sheet was a number and their name, the pledges they made Wednesday night for a fundraising drive designed to help St. Christopher School in Midlothian keep its doors open.
Last week, the Archdiocese of Chicago announced plans to close the school and five others, including St. Bernadette in Evergreen Park, because of financial woes and low enrollment as part of a $10 million cost-cutting program.
At Wednesday’s meeting in the packed church, the faithful learned that they need to make a financial commitment, and a large one, to keep the school open.
After the audience hearing from Principal Maureen Wilson and longtime parishioner Nancy Callaghan, finance committee chairman John Clavio spoke of the school’s ideals and long tradition and the devout members of the parish.
Then he dropped the bombshell — asking for a pledge of $1,000 per family a year for five years. Nobody keeled over in shock or left the church. After a few moments, they began walking forward to the altar.
Ideally, 400 families will commit to $1,000 year over five years, providing the school with $2 million, enough of a cushion to keep it open the next eight years.
“That’s a large amount, but I can do that. God’s been good to me,” said Mary Hayes, who pledged $5,000 over five years.
She and her six siblings attended the school and she would hate to see it close, she said.
Clavio, an attorney who also teaches at Lewis University, thinks the $2 million goal will be reached, but he stressed that there’s little time. The archdiocese, he said, wants to see St. Christopher’s bailout plan by Monday.
“That gives us four days,” he said, “but I think we’re going to do this. We have 2,200 families listed (as members) and 1,100 of those are active. We have 4,500 alumni, and we have 200 businesses in town. If we can get 400 from that to pledge $1,000 a year, we can do this.”
Save St. Christopher School, a Facebook page started last week by Jeannette Cateara, already has 1,600 members who can soon expect to see the pledge sheet posted.
Wilson said “schools from all over come here for sporting events, and every time I get compliments on our gym, our coaches, how well our students are behaved. That says a lot about our school.”
St. Christopher started with 60 students in 1924. It once had nearly 700. It’s now just below the 225-student cutoff the archdiocese uses when it decides which struggling schools to close.
Some schools have been successful in reversing a closure decision, Sister Mary Paul McCaughey, school superintendent for the archdiocese, said via email. “There is an appeals process, and it is part of the ongoing dialogue. (But schools) must develop a break-even fiscal plan that can be accepted by the archdiocese.”
There was a standing ovation Wednesday night for two nuns who still teach at St. Christopher, but gone are the days where nuns worked practically for nothing. Salary and benefits account for about 70 percent of the school’s operating costs, Callaghan said.
And the archdiocese has been helping the school by providing more than $1.1 million over the past four years to help pay the bills, she said.
Basketball coach Mike Strelczyk said he pledged more than $1,000 a year. He has three children in the school, and his wife teaches preschool there.
“We have 217 kids in the school and another 198 in religious education. To see this school shut down and see all those people pull out ...” he said.
St. George School in Tinley Park is holding a fundraiser Thursday for St. Christopher. There will be a prayer service at St. Christopher Church at 10 a.m. Saturday.
“The mood is hopeful,” said Midlothian Park District director Evelyn Gleason, a parishioner who attended the school as did her sons. The community needs this school. Did you know the mayor, four of six trustees, the fire chief, police chief, myself and the village attorney are all alumni of St. Christopher? We produce leaders.”