I know what its like to have your Catholic grade school closed. I was part of the last graduating class of Seven Holy Founders (1990) in Calumet Park, and even though I was going to high school (Brother Rice), that fall, still its difficult to attend a lame duck school.
The heart of any Catholic parish is the school, now granted for some parishes the school is a drain financially and of resources but the youth of a parish comes from that school. So much of what happens at a church is directly connected from that school, good or bad. People that might not normally attend the church may come from the families of a school age child.
I can remember still attending Seven Holy Founders Church after the school was closed and there were fewer altar servers and it felt like the air had been sucked out of church. There were less people, less activities, not as many young people, it just wasn't the same.
My family ended up going to Holy Name of Mary in nearby Morgan Park because it was more youth orientated and ironically their school was closed about a decade later and same deal, you end up with an elderly congregation and no infusion of youth.
I understand Catholic school closings are usually due to lack of students and funds but the community suffers without the availability of a quality religious education.
Having attended both public and Catholic elementary schools, I can tell you first hand, there is nothing and I mean nothing like attending your local parish school.
I started at Saint Columbanus school in Park Manor (for pre school & kindergarten), which was my grandmothers parish and it was old school, south side Catholic. Though being a sizable parish and school everyone knew each other. My mother and aunt had attended that every school, it was tradition, education, love and more tradition. I loved my time there and kids and people, you felt special and knew plenty of people cared about you.
I then spent six years at Paul Revere in South Shore, then came to Seven Holy Founders in seventh grade. The small suburban school, with a close knit church and great kids was a wonderful experience both in and out of the classroom. I was an altar sever and in the Boy Scouts, all based right at the parish. For two years my whole life was right there at the parish, it was convenient, made great friends and got a good hands on education.
The teachers and administration gave their heart at soul at that little school right to the very last day when it was very emotional, I've seen dedicated educators my whole life (I come from a family of teachers), but to see a small group of people care so much and make a school so special was just that special. That little school may not have been the most advanced or had the best facilities (we had gym across the parking lot in the local recreational center), but when you're an awkward kid, it means so much for adults to give their time, their heart, and make sure your needs are met and no child is truly left behind.
I have been blessed to have received Catholic education on the elementary, high school and university level and each of those were great experiences but the foundation in that elementary school can't be stressed enough. To start everyday with religion class, to attend regular masses and make early sacraments (though my first reconciliation & first communion were made as part of CCD), still its building the faith that will serve you a lifetime.
Where else can you be pulled out of class to be an altar server for a funeral mass for an hour and then return to class later that morning? It gives you the chance to experience the faith, emotion and service that many young people don't get to see. You learn quickly to appreciate your faith and your parish.
I experienced my first religious retreat as preparation for the Sacrament of Confirmation in eighth grade, it was definitely a chance to expand my faith that otherwise would have been missed.
I always dread hearing the loss of a Catholic School (much less the six announced today), because blue uniforms, fundraising like crazy and dealing with priests and lets not forget nuns and religious brothers is something to behold and the lessons they give will last a lifetime.
Closing a Catholic Grade school due to funding (or the lack there of), is akin laying off workers so the work can be outsourced. It disrupts families, lowers the quality of life for those involved and communities are never the same.
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