PILSEN — Sister Rita Marie has been teaching at Our Lady of Vilna Elementary for more than 21 years.
With the recent announcement of the school’s closing, Sister Rita Marie said it’s the students she’ll miss most.
“Oh yes, I’ll miss the school. Hopefully I can find another job where I can work with the children. I’m not ready to retire,” she said.
On Wednesday, the Archdiocese of Chicago announced budget cuts promped by an annual $30 million shortfall it’s faced for the last four years.
In addition to eliminating 75 positions at its headquarters, the archdiocese will also close five schools, including Our Lady of Vilna, 2114 W. 22nd Place.
Roy Pletsch, who’s been principal at the school for three years, said the Catholic Church has seen costs grow as it's had to pay teachers competitive salaries to fill the gap where nuns such as Sister Rita Marie once led classrooms.
Pletsch, who started his 40-year teaching career in Catholic schools, also teaches classes at Our Lady of Vilna in order to keep costs down.
He said he just hopes the students get moved to a school that meets their needs.
“I tell the kids, "It’s not just the closest [school], but the one that fits you,'” he said.
Sister Rita Marie is the last nun from the Sisters of St. Casimir to teach at the school.
“When I first started, there were seven of us living at the convent, and five of us teaching at the school. But then, things change,” she said.
José Torres, who has five grandchildren at the school, said he doesn't know which schools they will attend now.
“There’s nothing to do. I can’t do nothing,” he said “I’d like them to stay. My son went here,” said Torres, who lives in the neighborhood.
“I think we knew it was eventually leading that way," parent Nicole Negrete said.
Discipline and an opportunity for Catholic study are both reasons Negrete, 35, said she enrolled her kids in Catholic school.
“My older one, he had been here since second grade, and the little one has been here since preschool,” she said. “It’s sad it’s closing.”
Our Lady of Vilna's last day is June 12.