St. Christopher School gets reprieve: ‘We did it’
BY SUSAN DEMAR LAFFERTY firstname.lastname@example.org January 24, 2014 3:50PM
Sister Laurinda applauds the announcement that school will remain open and she will still be teaching at St. Christopher after 39 years of employment at the school at St. Christopher Church, Friday, January 24th, 2014, in Midlothian | Gary Middendorf/for Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 27, 2014 6:43AM
Just two weeks after financially struggling St. Christopher School learned it was targeted for closure by the Archdiocese of Chicago, supporters of the Midlothian school are rejoicing — and making long-term plans for the future.
“We did it!” Pastor Kris Paluch said Friday, proclaiming the good news from the pulpit to parents and students after a pledge drive and enrollment plan convinced the archdiocese to keep the school open.
The announcement was met with cheers and applause, and Paluch then rang the church bells to let the entire community know the good news.
The parish school this month was notified by the archdiocese that it was one of six Catholic schools to be closed at the end of this school year. It’s one of two schools that will stay open, as parishioners of Our Lady of Victory on Chicago’s Northwest Side also learned Friday that their campaign had raised more than $760,000 in two weeks, persuading the archdiocese to keep the school of 171 students open.
This was the first time in St. Christopher School’s 90-year history that it was threatened with closure. It has 215 students this school year, just 10 shy of the cutoff the archdiocese uses in deciding to close a school.
“This has been a journey of prayer, effort and great anticipation,” Paluch said. “We could not accomplish anything without the support of our community. I did not dream we would be so successful in such a short time.”
Within a week, church members, alumni and the community pledged to contribute more than $1.8 million over the next five years, which will sustain the school for the next eight years, said John Clavio, head of the finance committee.
The plan they presented to church officials is enrollment-based, he said. If the school can keep its enrollment up and continue collecting on pledges, “we could be open for another 90 years,” Clavio said.
Parents said they received a text message from the school Friday morning urging them to come to a short meeting at the church at 2:45 p.m. and that students would be dismissed from there.
Parents were nervous as they filed into the church before the meeting, but they left crying and hugging.
“When I saw the kids here, I knew they would not drop a bomb on us,” said Dennis O’Brien, parent of a first-grader.
“I’m ecstatic. I’m glad we pulled it off,” Jeannie Erffmeyer said. “This is a monumental, history-making event.”
“I am very happy. We knew the parishioners and the community would come together,” parent Annareese Stewart said.
The archdiocese needed proof that any financial commitments would be enough to sustain the school for many years. Clavio said it was not difficult to convince them.
“They said we had the most excellent and well-constructed proposal they have ever seen,” he said. “They loved our pledge drive.”
“The school’s foundation is based on faith, not money,” Principal Maureen Wilson told the crowd. “St. Christopher, Chapter Two. Here we come.”
Wilson has been at the school for only one year, but said, “When I came here, I knew how wonderful this community was. I knew this community would rise to the occasion. They really care about each other.”
The goal was to have 400 donors pledge $1,000 a year over five years for a total of $2 million.
Committees are being formed for fundraising, marketing, volunteers, diversity, outreach and gift administration.
Clavio said in a meeting Wednesday that 466 families made pledges ranging from a low of $2 per year to $5,000 per year. A five-day phone-a-thon had 70 volunteers making about 4,400 calls, seeking donations. The parish website had 1,000 hits over five days, and many of those pledged donations.
One-time donations topped $58,000. And money still is coming in, business manager Denise Blackstone said.
“Everyone at St. Christopher’s should be so proud of what they have done to secure the future of our children,” she said. “I hope the kids understand how people care so much about their education and their future.”