St. Christopher Parish Community Raises Over $2 Million in Pledge Drive to Save Catholic School
When Maureen Wilson accepted the job as principal of St. Christopher School in Midlothian, Illinois, she knew she faced an uphill battle. As an AIM school (the Archdiocesan Initiative Model in which the Archdiocese of Chicago's Office of Catholic Schools, with the consent of the pastor, takes over full operating authority of a school for three years to help with marketing, budgeting, and personnel decisions), St. Christopher was already in dire need of a financial and enrollment turnaround.
Ms. Wilson is no stranger to saving a Catholic school on the brink of closure, however. Just last year, as principal of St. Leonard School in Berwyn, Illinois, she spearheaded a targeted recruiting effort after having participated in the first annual Latino Enrollment Institute - an initiative of ACE and the Catholic School Advantage Campaign at the University of Notre Dame. In the 2012-13 school year, Ms. Wilson and her team brought in 50 new Latino students, which was the school's first enrollment increase in many years.
Now in her first year as principal at St. Christopher School, she has increased enrollment to 215, up 50 students from the previous year. Despite this upward trend, however, the enrollment turnaround alone was not enough to return the school to financial stability.
Early in January, Ms. Wilson received the disheartening news that the school would be closed at the end of the 2013-14 school year. Even with the Archdiocese's support through grants, scholarships, and loans in excess of $1 million, St. Christopher was simply no longer economically viable.
While this story has become all too common in recent years, the response of the St. Christopher community following the announcement of the school's impending closure was not. Rather than sit idly by and accept this fate, the parish community came together, undaunted by the mountain they had to climb and determined to rewrite the next chapter of their school's story.
Compelled by gratitude for everyone who has served St. Christopher over the years – the Archdiocese of Chicago, parents and alumni, and every one of the teachers and principals, past and present – the community vowed to continue the school's proud tradition of providing a bright future for all those who walk through its doors. On January 15th, the "Gift to St. Chris Education" pledge drive was launched.
Between January 15th and 24th, the team at St. Christopher School raised over $2 million in pledges to keep their school open! Overwhelmed by the outpouring of financial support, volunteer work, and prayers from the school's families, parishioners, alumni, and friends, Ms. Wilson says "This is just so amazing. I feel like George Bailey from It's a Wonderful Life! St. Chris is such an amazing community... the news awoke a sleeping giant! We had pledges coming in from alumni scattered across the country."
In the school finance council's proposal to the Archdiocese, they presented everything that their team had to offer, highlighting not only their long-term financial plan, but the sustained and heightened efforts of a parish family and its commitment to their school and surrounding community:
We have been successful in developing a long-term financial plan solution of responsibility; an affirmation of continued development and required enrollment growth, and, in addition, sharing with you evidence of a "birth" taking place towards our journey in faith. The life of our church has taken this news rather than a swallowing-up, a vehicle of awakening toward an understanding of needed sacrifice, commitment and working together with God's love at the helm. This "new birth" combined with our parish and school's rich history is what we are striving for, especially on behalf of those who may be less fortunate. To the family that has already come to St. Christopher after surviving two Catholic school closings with their children, to the people who depend on our site to have Catholic Charities meals and warmth and St. Vincent de Paul's food supply, we have to continue with a mindset of service.
The incredible success of St. Christopher's $2 million pledge drive has insured the school's financial viability and stability for the next eight years and into the foreseeable future. In fact, the Archdiocese stated that St. Christopher's proposal was one of the best they had ever seen, and that the school community's response to the events of the past few weeks could serve as a model to other schools in the diocese and nationwide.
Although much work still lies ahead, the St. Christopher community can move forward knowing that their school will be able to continue its long history of excellence for many years to come. And under the leadership of Principal Maureen Wilson, opportunities for further growth will most certainly abound.