Independent initiatives mark Catholic school rebirth in Chicago


New Catholic schools are opening and flourishing in the Archdiocese of Chicago, thanks to committed parents and the investments of Catholic businesspeople.

Catholic schools across the country have been closing in recent decades, but parishes and parents are hoping that this new model of Catholic education can reverse that trend. In fact, the signs are hopeful. According to the National Catholic Education Association, 34 new Catholic schools opened in the U.S. in 2003-04.

Chicago Business reported on this new trend in a recent publication. The report features two new schools in Chicago are independent initiatives, founded by private investors.

Mortgage banker John T. Calk, 37, started East Lake Academy in Lake Forest three years ago with 13 children from six families. Its first building was financed by donations from those families. Now, there are 60 students from pre-kindergarten through sixth grade, and plans call for a high school.

John DeRoche, 45, started White Pines Academy in 1996 in his basement with 10 children from six families. Today, there are 130 students, pre-K through eighth grade, in leased space in Lemont. He envisions a school for 1,500, including a high school.

He and his board bought 32-acres in Lemont for $1.5 million to build a high school for 1,500 students. They're just a little short of the fund-raising mark needed for financing the campus' first building, budgeted at $6 million.

Both schools follow a curriculum developed by the Legionnaires of Christ. Annual tuition is about $5,600.

Other Catholic schools have developed in the city's oldest parishes, revived by young families who moved into new downtown housing. In this new model, these parish-based schools are not financially dependent on the parish. Instead, parents pay tuition, as much as $5,800, and organize fund-raisers.

The city's oldest parish opened a school this past fall with a pre-K class. Old St. Mary’s School and will add one grade each year, through eighth grade.

The school came about because a parent proposed the idea. Parents agreed that it would be tuition-funded. Parishioners also donated $400,000 to renovate space, and pledged another $150,000.

Along the same model, Immaculate Conception Parish reopened its grade school in 2000 with 19 students; there are now 132 from 14 parishes. The school had been closed in 1980, but in the late 1990s, the parish raised money to convert it back into classrooms. The parish subsidized the school for the first few years, but now the school is self-sufficient.

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