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Catholic School Parents Say Archdiocese 'Not Forthcoming' on Merger Plans

By Mauricio Peña | January 22, 2015 7:02am
 Parents are upset over the lack of communication leading up to the Archdiocese's announcement to merge six Catholic schools on the Northwest Side.
Parents are upset over the lack of communication leading up to the Archdiocese's announcement to merge six Catholic schools on the Northwest Side.
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DNAinfo/Mauricio Pena

JEFFERSON PARK — A day after the Archdiocese of Chicago announced its plan to merge six Northwest Side schools, some parents were upset over what they called the lack of communication leading up to the announcement.

In Tuesday's announcement, the Archdiocese invited pastors and principals from St. Constance, St. Cornelius, Our Lady of Victory, St. Pascal, St. Tarcissus and St. Thecla to decide on whether they wanted to participate in the consolidation.

"The worst part about this is learning about it on the news," John Gianopulos, a parent of St. Tarcissus students, said Wednesday. "There's a lot of hurt feelings that the pastor wasn't forthcoming with the information.

"As parents we understand something needs to be done," Gianopulos added. "But we want to know why these schools were selected. Where's the financial information to back up that this is the best economic solution? Instead, we are being told to [consolidate] or else you will receive no more funding."

Each school must make a decision on whether to consolidate by Feb. 13.

"The pastors of these schools are being hush hush," Gianopulos said. "They need to have an open, honest line of communication."

School officials at Our Lady of Victory and St. Pascal issued apologies to parents who found out about the potential consolidation through news outlets before receiving an announcement from school officials.

"I can see how you would feel disrespected learning the news over social media. That was never part of the plan," St. Pascal school officials posted on Facebook.

Joe DiCula, a parent of two St. Tarcissus students and two alumni, agreed that the "communication of the consolidation was poor."

"When the idea of regional consolidation was floating around in the fall, they said there would be parental input throughout the process, there was no follow-up until this," DiCula said. "They could have been more forthcoming."

In November, the Rev. Dan Fallon, pastor of St. Cornelius, told parishioners that several Catholic elementary and junior high schools on the Northwest Side would be consolidated into a regional school.

In the fall, Thomas McGrath, chief operating officer for Catholic schools for the archdiocese, told DNAinfo the details of a regional consolidation plan for Northwest Side schools had "not yet been confirmed and would not be announced until school communities are fully informed."

Although DiCula was upset with the way the information was distributed, he was hoping parents would be updated in the process of deciding what the consolidation would look like.

"There's a lot of unknowns, and that's scary for a lot of parents, but if we are kept involved we can create a stronger presence on the Northwest Side," DiCula said.

St. Cornelius parent Jane Deitrich also said the announcement was mishandled.

"I know parents are frustrated about the communication being incomplete or inaccurate and distributed in a way that's not respectful to families and staff," Deitrich said.

Despite the handling of the announcement, Deitrich felt the news wasn't completely unexpected since there had been rumors about the consolidation floating around since the fall.

"I'm trying to be optimistic about the consolidation, if schools are struggling with resources. It's time to look into viable options to keep them open." Deitrich said.

Horacio Padilla, an Our Lady of Victory parent, was not convinced that the Archdiocese was struggling financially.

"It's upsetting," Padilla said. "I don't believe it. I think they have the money to support these schools."

The Rev. Paul Seaman at St. Pascal said "the decision to consolidate the schools is an effort to use resources more wisely."

If the schools do not choose to participate in the consolidation, parishioners and each school would be responsible for all costs, and could not ask the Archdiocese for financial assistance, Seaman said.

"After we find out which schools will participate in the consolidation, we will start to assess the conditions of the schools, the pros and cons. My hunch is that more than one school building will be needed to accommodate the [approximately] 1,200 students. It's going to take an open mind, generosity and some sacrifice," Seaman said.

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