JEFFERSON PARK — St. Cornelius School must raise $250,000 by Oct. 10 to avoid being placed on a list of schools the Archdiocese of Chicago is considering closing, church officials told parents and parishioners Thursday.
Officials from the Jefferson Park Catholic church and school at 5252 N. Long Ave. said they were informed two days ago that the archdiocese can no longer give the school $250,000 a year to cover a deficit created by the school's declining enrollment and lagging fundraising, according to a letter sent home with students.
"The amount of money is significant and the timeframe is undoubtedly short, but we are confident that our campaign to raise the necessary funding will be successful," according to the letter from Principal Christina Bowman, the Rev. Daniel Fallon, the pastor of St. Cornelius, and parish business manager Kelly Fierro.
Heather Cherone says many parents were upset about the news, but hopeful they could raise the money fast:
St. Cornelius, which is almost 90 years old, is not in danger of closing before the end of the school year, Fallon said.
St. Cornelius School is working to put itself in "good standing" with the archdiocese before Cardinal Francis George makes "significant financial decisions" before he retires in mid-November and is replaced by Spokane Bishop Blase Cupich, Fallon said in an interview Thursday.
"We are being proactive," Fallon said.
But Fallon said the thought the church and school, which has 177 students this year — 20 fewer than a year ago — would have more time to address its deficit.
"But the timeline has gone out the window," Fallon said. "It is unfortunate, but we need the money now."
St. Cornelius officials set the Oct. 10 deadline in an effort to show archdiocesan officials the strength of the community and prepare a plan to ensure that the school remains open, Fallon said.
"I hope parents rally round the school," Fallon said.
Several parents picking up their children from school Thursday said they were shocked and angry by the news of the school's precarious financial position. None would give their names for fear of angering archdiocesan officials.
Sister Mary Paul McCaughey, superintendent of the Archdiocese of Chicago Catholic Schools, declined to answer questions about St. Cornelius' future.
Susan Burritt, spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said in a statement that a planning process that began in the spring about the "future vitality" of many Catholic schools in Chicago will continue until a decision is "made by the cardinal, in consultation with the Archdiocesan Board of Catholic Education, the Office of Catholic Schools and local leadership."
St. Cornelius is about a mile away from Our Lady of Victory church and school, which avoided being closed by the archdiocese in the spring after raising nearly $800,000 to cover its deficit for the next three years.
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