CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) — Cardinal Blase Cupich spoke publicly for the first time about Catholic school closings and church consolidations that have been announced over the last week.

Since last week, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago has announced that five schools will be closed at the end of this academic year and that, by July of next year, 13 parishes will be consolidating into five parishes.

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Cardinal Cupich attended Tuesday morning’s Celebrating Catholic Education Breakfast, a $150 per person event at the Chicago Hilton and Tower. The breakfast is to benefit classroom technology, teacher coaching and other educational resources.

Last week, the archdiocese announced that St. Cyprian School in River Grove, Holy Cross School in Deerfield, Incarnation School in Palos Heights, Our Lade of the Ridge School in Chicago Ridge and St. Michael School in Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood will be closing at the end of June.

WBBM asked the Cardinal if the Chicago area will eventually wind up with Catholic school deserts or un-served areas as a result of continued closings.

“My hope, in fact, what we’re doing with Renew My Church, is that we won’t have any deserts for either our parishes or our schools. We want to be accessible,” Cupich said.

The cardinal said finances play a role in the decision to close a school, but so does enrollment. He said there comes a time when a school is so small that it affects education.

“When you begin to move beyond 200 or 175, you no longer have the capacity to have classrooms where there can be the critical mass for good education,” Cupich said.

He said that includes Incarnation School in Palos Heights which has nearly a million and a half dollars endowment to be used for capital improvements for the church and school.

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“We can’t jeopardize the viability of a parish with a school that doesn’t have the promise of building its enrollment. We have to be prudent about that and it’s unfair to the rest of the parishioners to put that demand on them,” he said.

Cardinal Cupich said it seems that, in many schools already, people are willing to travel to get a good Catholic education. He said many schools draw from several different zip codes.

In addition to the school closings, 13 parishes will be re-shaped to form 5 parishes, although for now, all 13 church buildings will still be used. The cardinal said savings will be made by “an economy of scale”. When it comes to staff members, he says, “instead of having three bookkeepers, instead of having religious education by three people, you’re going to have staff that’s going to be able to take care of that, including one pastor for all of them.”

Cardinal Cupich said the archdiocese’ “Renew My Church” program, which is a process to make decisions from the bottom-up rather than from the central office on down.

The consolidations that will be happening include 13 churches that will all continue to have Masses celebrated:

– Queen of the Universe and St. Adrian Parish on the city’s South Side will form one new parish. So will St. Ailbe, St. Felicitas, and St. Joachim Parishes on the South Side.

– St. Celestine in Elmwood Park and St. Cyprian in River Grove Parishes will form a new parish.

– Sacred Heart in Winnetka and St. Philip the Apostle Church in Northfield will form one parish.

– St. Francis Xavier Church in Wilmette and St. Joseph Church in Wilmette will form one new parish.

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– St. Bede Church in Ingleside and St. Peter Church in Antioch will form one new parish.