Local Leaders Push for St. Rene to Stay Open
Southwest News Herald
The plan to keep St. Rene School open is in full force, according to one parishioner who said a letter has been sent to the Chicago Archdiocese and signed by local political leaders emphasizing the need to keep the 54-year-old facility from closing its doors.
Anita Cummings, one of the members of the School Action Committee who also serves as the executive director of the United Business Association of Midway, said a letter signed by Cong. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd), House Speaker and state Rep. Michael Madigan (D-22nd), state Sen. Martin Sandoval (D-11th), and two local Chicago aldermen, Marty Quinn (13th) and Mike Zalewski (23rd), has been delivered to the archdiocese. The letter states that the school should remain open.
“We are pretty together,” said Cummings, a longtime Clearing resident and a parishioner at St. Rene for over 47 years. “We have a new plan for the school. We have a number of proposals and petitions signed to get the (archdiocese) to rescind their decision.”
St. Rene School, 6340 S. New England Ave., is one of nine schools in the Chicago Archdiocese that has been informed that it is scheduled to close in June. The other local school scheduled to close is St.Turibius, 4120 W. 57th Place.
Cummings said that over 400 posters have been made, to be displayed in businesses, along with buttons that call for St. Rene to be saved. The petitions need to be signed by the Rev. Thomas Bernas, pastor of St. Rene. The pastor would then present the petitions to Auxiliary Bishop Andrew P. Wypych, who is the vicar of Vicariate V that includes Southwest Side parishes and St. Rene.
Wypych then has to present those petitions to Archbishop Blase Cupich, who officially became the Chicago Archdiocese’s new archbishop on Nov.18, replacing the retiring Cardinal Francis George.
The letter sent to the archdiocese dated Nov. 6 and addressed to the attention of the new archbishop mentioned that St. Rene has been an “iconic staple in the community for decades. …The school offers Clearing residents an outstanding religious education with extracurricular activities for children, their parents, and for the parishioners.”
The letter goes on to state the recent news “broke the hearts of many members of the St. Rene community, and has devastated the surrounding community tremendously. Since the news broke out, an outpour of support has united to help save St. Rene. The solidarity of the community and school members only reconfirms the gigantic loss and impact that will traumatize this community.”
The letter concludes “any alternative that provides the opportunity to keep the families’ hearts of St. Rene whole, would be deeply appreciated.”
Bernas and the other eight pastors of the schools scheduled to close were notified with a phone call from the archdiocese on the morning of Oct. 29.
“I was completely floored,” Bernas said.
The Chicago Archdiocese said the nine schools will close as part of a restructuring and consolidation plan to reduce costs because of declining enrollment.
Parents interviewed the next morning after dropping off their children at St. Rene School said they were stunned to hear the news. They all said they did not see this coming, especially in light of a series of transformation meetings held at St. Rene. The parents said they thought the meetings were being held by the archdiocese to come up with a three- to five-year plan to keep the school viable.
Cummings, whose three children attended St. Rene, said she attended the transformation committee meetings and was under the impression that the archdiocese would also provide input at these sessions. However, that never took place, Cummings said.
“That hurts me the most,” said Cummings. “How do you expect people to give all their time and effort when they (archdiocese) make a decision like this? We met for 12 weeks and a large group of people attended these meetings. The next step was that we were going to reevaluate what our next step was. And then no decision from the archdiocese. I just feel bad for the parents.”
Thomas McGrath, chief operating officer for Catholic Schools, said the schools set to close had an average enrollment of 125 students. The enrollment at St. Rene at the time of the announcement was 168 students, according to school officials.
Cummings and other St. Rene Parishioners said they should have been given at least a year to come up with long-range plans to get enrollment up to 225, which the archdiocese requires.
Since the initial shock of the announcement, St. Rene parents, students and community members held a vigil outside the school Nov. 2 stating that they were going to fight to keep the school open. Lipinski and Zalewski also addressed the crowd and offered their support.
Parishioners, students and community leaders gathered at St. Rene School Hall on Nov. 6 to discuss their plans to keep the school open. A steering, planning and education committees were formed to devise ways to come up with long range plans for the school.
Cummings said over 3,000 petition signatures has been signed to keep St. Rene open. Cummings said the group of Christian faithful of the parish is committed to keeping St. Rene School open.
“I am always hopeful,” Cummings said. “The people of the community and the children deserve to have this school remain open.