CHICAGO (CBS) — Students were back in the classrooms Tuesday at Our Lady of Victory School in Portage Park, after facing closure by the Catholic Archdiocese earlier this year, unless it came up with hundreds of thousands of dollars.
WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser reports the school declared itself “on a mission from God” in January, when it needed to raise $400,000 in two weeks to avoid being shut down by the Archdiocese. It was one of several schools the Archdiocese said it could no longer fund, due to low enrollment and a drop in church giving. The schools were given the opportunity to raise money on their own to stay open.
Our Lady of Victory met its goal for this school year, and then some, collecting $750,000 in cash and pledges by the deadline, and money has continued pouring in.
“It was a little scary in the beginning, but I wanted to stay positive, because it’s important to me. This is my home away from home,” principal Jennifer Hodge said.
Tuesday was the first day of the new school year, and Hodge couldn’t have been happier to welcome students back.
“That’s the best feeling ever. That’s wonderful, just to see all their faces; the parents, the kids, getting hugs from the kids. It’s awesome,” she said.
To date, fundraising efforts have brought in more than $900,000, and enrollment at the school has risen to 185 students – a 25 percent increase, with more enrollments expected.
“If the people in the parish, the school, the families, the faculty, and the businesses all work together, this is what can happen; because it takes a lot of people, it’s not just one or the other,” said Mary Beth Frystak, director of religious education. “You should just never give up.”
Hodge said they’ve raised enough money to keep the school open for the next few years.
“Everything is definitely going up,” Hodge said. “The sense of community and the way everybody’s still working together to make us successful is wonderful.”
Two other Catholic schools – St. Florian in the Hegewisch neighborhood and St. Christopher in Midlothian – also were allowed to remain open earlier this year, after being targeted for closure, but raising needed cash for the 2014-15 school year.
“We still aren’t finished with our work,” said St. Florian Principal Krista Wilkinson. “Every year we’re going to have to continue to fundraise and solicit pledges.”
Our Lady of Victory has raised enough to assure its operation for three years, St. Christopher, for at least five years, but St. Florian will be fighting year-to-year to secure enough resources to remain open.