School closings and mergers are nothing to be taken lightly, especially Catholic School closings. I know I was the last graduating class at Seven Holy Founders in Calumet Park but the administration there agreed to close themselves almost 25 years ago due to low enrollment and also a school that is under performing is a huge financial drain on the parish. Especially if the parish is not bringing in the money it used to and most parishes now have less money to deal with.
But my educational road started at 71st & Calumet, yes I was a student at Saint Columbanus in Park Manor originally, so was my mother, so was my aunt. Our family runs deep in those hallowed halls, that parish is intertwined with my family. My late grandparents were long serving members there, my aunt and uncle were married there and I was baptized there. My earliest recollections of school, life, some fear and mostly love are from right there on 71st Street. A lot of happiness too, my grandparents lived at 72nd & Eberhart right across King Drive and they used come at get me everyday, there was a lot of love and success in that school.
I’m glad to know the legacy of that school will live on in the newly formed Augustus Tolton school as they merge their school with their neighbor to the south Saint Dorothy. Ironically my grandparents also served that parish and celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary there and were both buried from there. The Park Manor & Chatham communities have been havens for middle class African Americans for a long time, these schools have been anchors for the community and many successful people got their start there.
But I know this change isn’t easy, hell I was emotional when I first heard about it, honestly pissed (and I’ve been gone from there for 30 years), but education is changing, look at the new controversial “Common Core” curriculum and prior to that “No Child Left Behind” laws, we know there has to be better education and with a new school with new strategies like Augustus Tolton, its a big start for a neighborhood that needs it.
Urban education needs to be different, I’ve been to a wonderful parochial school like St Columbanus and also had a Chicago Public School education at nearby Paul Revere School. No less love at either but resources are the name of the game, smaller class size, individual attention and current curriculum with new books and technology to match.
As a child I remember Saint Columbanus being such a warm place, now granted my grandparents were long serving members who were very active but so was the case for many of my classmates, you know that whole thing about “it takes a village”, its true and was the case there. That didn’t mean it was easy, I can remember being upset because it was hard at times and I got scared but the people there were outstanding, they didn’t let you fall nor fail. I really hope with the new Augustus Tolton school, which by the way that name is perfect, the first African American priest, that sends such a message to the student and community about their message.
And this is not a new venture for the Archdiocese of Chicago, when the venerable Visitation parish closed in Englewood (at one time one of the largest parishes, even had a high school), and through negotiations and planning the replacement was Saint Benedict The African (which I believe now has two campuses), so this can work.
But I know old schools die hard, I mean this is religious education, so people go on faith and you are taught the way, the truth and the life but change is inevitable. I’ve had over 12 hours to digest this, think of my own school closing and think fondly of my time in Park Manor and the thought now has to be on the future.
I think of the last years at Seven Holy Founders and it was a nice little school but even for the late 1980’s it was sorely out of date, well under the 225 enrollment population and when I got to High School (Brother Rice), I struggled because despite as hard the teachers taught and as great as a community it was, we weren’t on the level of other parishes. Its the hardest thing in the world to admit this isn’t working and to move forward.
I know the Archdiocese looks mean right now but even at my current suburban parish, the dollars are down and they want to update their school but its on hold right now.
So the administration at Saint Columbanus & Saint Dorothy have done the best they could and I’ve known many people at both parishes, lots of smart and hard working people there, they will have this going well. Years from now this will be great and that legacy of education that so many of us started with long ago will still be shining bright.
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