A group of at least two dozen parents gathered outside the Holy Name Cathedral’s rectory Saturday to convince Cardinal Blase Cupich to reconsider the decision to close their children’s grade school in west suburban Cicero.
The hourlong protest outside Holy Name followed an announcement last month from the archdiocese that said St. Frances of Rome School in Cicero and St. Odilo School in Berwyn, two pre-K to eighth grade private schools, will close their doors in June after the conclusion of the academic year. The announcement cited an “overwhelming financial cliff” for the two schools after the loss of a state tax credit scholarship program for school choice.
Yet parents at St. Frances of Rome said no warning was given that their school could possibly close and their questions have gone repeatedly unanswered.
“We have requested an open parent forum to have our questions answered,” said parent organizer Betty Paz, who has a 7th-grade daughter at the school.
Parents of the school, which has a majority Hispanic student population from working class families, said anonymous donors have committed to contribute a sizeable amount of money to keep the school open if the church approves the effort. Paz declined to share the exact amount of money promised by donors.
Paz said the group of St. Frances parents pooled their money to rent a bus and make the 35-minute drive from Cicero to Holy Name Cathedral in River North.
“We are disappointed at our leadership from the Archdiocese, but as parents we’re here to ensure that St. Frances of Rome remains open because we want the best for our community and for our children,” Paz said of why they were protesting.
In a statement to the Tribune Saturday afternoon, Superintendent of Catholic Schools Greg Richmond said the archdiocese is committed to keeping schools open, but the loss of the tax credit program funds is costing the church millions.
“Despite the pleas of thousands of families, the legislature ended the scholarship program and cost Catholic schools in the Chicago area $25 million,” Richmond said in the statement. “Those hurt the most are schools, like St. Frances of Rome, who serve the greatest number of low-income students. We are doing all we can to keep Catholic schools open, but this is a painful hit.”
It was unclear if Cupich was at the rectory during the protest.
The archdiocese said they are projected to lose thousands of dollars in tuition money after state legislators failed to renew the Invest in Kids tax credit scholarship program past its Dec. 31 expiration date.
In a previous interview with the Tribune, school leaders acknowledged that the schools had preexisting financial struggles but said support from Invest in Kids tax credit scholarships kept the schools afloat for the past several years. The program was signed into law in 2017.
Families at the schools have been encouraged by the archdiocese to enroll in the two remaining archdiocesan schools in the area, St. Leonard School in Berwyn and Our Lady of Charity School in Cicero, but parents say the schools are pricier and not an adequate substitution for their children’s education at St. Frances of Rome.
“It’s very hard because we are low-income families, and we barely make money to send our kids to this school, where tuition is a lot less expensive than the other schools around us,” said parent Brenda Sanchez who brought her daughter Alexa, 7, to march with her. “And we don’t have the scholarships we used to have for our school because my kids benefited from the state scholarships. It’s going to be impossible for us to keep our kids in the schools.”