By Bob Uphues
It's been a stressful 12 months for the parishioners of Holy Guardian Angels Parish, which serves Roman Catholics in Brookfield and part of LaGrange Park. The name itself is new, adopted officially last summer after the Archdiocese of Chicago merged St. Barbara in Brookfield and St. Louise de Marillac in LaGrange Park into a single entity.
While the new parish is still getting accustomed to that change, it had still had St. Louise de Marillac School as a rallying point. The school had welcomed families whose children had once attended St. Barbara School in Brookfield after that institution closed in 2012.
But, now St. Louise de Marillac School finds itself on the archdiocese's chopping block. On Jan. 13, the archdiocese announced that it was closing the school effective June 30, ending its 62-year run.
St. Louise is one of five archdiocesan schools closing at the end of the school year. The others are St. Colette School in Rolling Meadows, St. Jane de Chantal School in Chicago, St. Joseph School in Round Lake and St. Maria Goretti School in Schiller Park.
"School closures are difficult and complicated and we realize the impact it has on students, their families and our staff," said Jim Rigg, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of Chicago in a press release. "We are committed to making the transition caused by these closures as seamless as possible. The archdiocese will be working with each affected student and employee to assist them in finding places at other Catholic schools."
The news was not unexpected.
Even before Holy Guardian Angels Parish was officially formed, one of the options brought forward by the Renew My Church team was closing St. Louise School after the 2018-19 school year and the using the school to house an early childhood education program.
Enrollment has been dropping for years, with some grade-level enrollment in the school reaching just single digits. A Dec. 11, 2019, letter sent to parishioners explaining the situation with the school indicated that for the present school year, St. Louise's enrollment was just 59 students across grades K-8.
According to the archdiocese's press release announcing the school's closure, St. Louise de Marillac's enrollment had dropped by 38 students since last school year.
According to that letter, the school this year lost a kindergarten class to the neighboring public school, Brook Park School, which launched its full-day kindergarten program. Also troubling for 2019-20, the preschool program did not reach maximum capacity this year.
"As a result, we are at risk for closure at the end of this school year," the Dec. 11 letter to parishioners stated.
Last week, Holy Guardian Angels Parish publicly announced on its Facebook page that it had until Jan. 10 to obtain $300,000 in pledges to address a $250,000 school operating deficit. The archdiocese also directed the parish to meet enrollment benchmarks and to draft a plan to increase enrollment within three years to 200.
Parish and school officials directed all inquiries by the Landmark to the archdiocese.
Social media posts by St. Louise de Marillac School indicated that the parish had been able to raise about $90,000 in pledges after a five-day fundraising blitz last week.
"We were given a monumental task," St. Louise officials posted on the school's Facebook page Monday evening. "We worked tirelessly to achieve the goals set forth to us. Despite our best efforts, it wasn't enough.
"The students and families of St. Louise School are forever grateful to the hundreds of individuals and businesses who stepped up to pledge $90,291 in support of our efforts over the past 5 days. Words cannot express our thanks!"
With news that the school is closing, those pledges will be voided.