Saint Eugene Catholic School on city’s Northwest Side faces closure; community rally to raise $250K
Families and faculty at St. Eugene Catholic School have been given less than three months to raise $250,000 for next year’s operating costs, or the school will close its doors.
The Catholic school on the Northwest Side of Chicago has been teaching kindergarten through 8th grade students since 1948 and has for generations been an important part of the Norridge and Harwood Heights Catholic communities.
On Nov. 4, faculty and staff were notified by the Chicago Archdiocese that in order to stay open, they need to raise $250,000 and reach an enrollment rate of 185 students by Jan. 31.
Parents, faculty, alumni and members of the community have already begun rallying together in an effort to save the school, raising more than $15,000 on a Go Fund Me page and planning several fundraisers.
“We were shocked and our emotions were high,” said AJ Aceirno, a parent of a 7th grader, 5th grader and 2nd grader and an alumnus. “We immediately, that evening, started mobilizing a unit to fundraise for our school and have committees handling fundraising, public relations and working with the archdiocese.”
Acierno, a lifelong resident of Norridge, said that St. Eugene has been an integral part of his family and his life.
His brother and sister also attended the school, his niece and nephew graduated from the school and his mother taught there for more than 35 years.
“This school is a community staple and we need the community to get behind us and really back us and what this school does for the community,” said Acierno. “That school has such strong ties and it really keeps people in and brings people back into the community. Without having this school there this sense of community and a small town feel within a city is going to go away.”
For Bridget Elliott, whose children are in 5th, 4th and 1st grade, St. Eugene was a major reason to settle in Harwood Heights. She and her husband decided to live permanently in the village after their daughter started at St. Eugene.
A teacher in Buffalo Grove, Elliott said she is continuously impressed with the academics at St. Eugene, the test scores students achieve after attending the school and the opportunities for innovation. Her daughter recently developed a passion for science thanks to the school’s science lab, she said.
Elliott said she also enjoys being a part of a school and parish that is so connected to her neighborhood and community.
“St. Eugene is very close knit and it’s like a big family, it really gives us a sense of community,” said Elliott. “I think everyone is just shocked and dumbfounded and we all want what’s best for our kids and our community.”
The Rev. Richard Yanos, pastor of St. Eugene, said that he is hopeful the school will stay open.
“But the issue for us is a very simple equation — when the expenses continue to rise and the enrollment continues to drop, that deficit has to come from somewhere.”
Yanos said there are 186 students enrolled and the school will be required to have 185 students next year. To break even on operating costs, however, about 60 more students would need to enroll.
“To operate as a healthy school, our enrollment would need to be around 245,” said Yanos.
For years, the school has been funded by subsidies from the St. Eugene parish. In the last 11 years alone, the parish has given more than $3.8 million to keep the school operational, Yanos said.
The parish, however, is also seeing a decrease in enrollment and, therefore, a decrease in available funds.
“We just don’t have the hundreds of thousands of dollars that we used to give to the school,” said Yanos. “It’s a process that we just, unfortunately, can’t avoid, so what we’re asking is that the school communities need to start carrying more of their weight in terms of fundraising and financing.”
For many parents, the tight deadline is almost as concerning as the high price tag.
“I think that it’s a horrible situation that the archdiocese has put us in where have to scramble like this, it’s almost like they gave us an unreachable deadline,” said Jeff Stewart, a Harwood Heights resident whose daughter is in the 4th grade at St. Eugene.
Christine Coleman, co-president of the School Advisory Committee, a St. Eugene alumni and the parent of two students and two graduates, said that she was disappointed that the parish didn’t offer to help families and faculty come up with the money.
“There was never a ‘let’s roll up our sleeves to get this done’ approach,’” said Coleman.
Coleman said that she has been impressed by how quickly and efficiently the community has come together to start fundraising.
“It’s really motivating and it’s really uplifting, that we care so much about this school and this community,” said Coleman. “We hope to achieve enough revenue and enough positive momentum that we’re able to work with the archdiocese and sustain our school.”
As of Tuesday, the archdiocese has pledged to donate $50,000 of the $250,000 the school needs to stay open, said Yanos.
A Friendsgiving fundraiser will be held at 7 p.m. Friday at Landmark Pub, 5135 N. Oriole Ave., Harwood Heights, where $25 tickets will include pizza, a raffle ticket and entertainment by DADBAND.
The Italian Catholic Federation Branch No. 274 will host an Italian Night fundraiser in support of the school at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the St. Eugene Schaughnessy Center, 5220 N. Canfield, Chicago. The group will serve an Italian dinner with a live DJ. Tickets are $20 per adult $10 per child and the event is BYOB.
Taylor Hartz is a freelance reporter