Melrose Park’s Sacred Heart Looking For ‘Miracle’ To Stay Open

Thursday, December 31, 2020 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews 

The families, board and administrators of Sacred Heart School, 815 N. 16th Ave. in Melrose Park, are hoping to raise enough funds to avoid closure amid a decreasing enrollment, school officials and Archdiocese of Chicago representatives have confirmed.

On Dec. 11, two people created a GoFundMe campaign on behalf of the School Advisory Board and parents of Sacred Heart.

“There is an urgency in our need for help,” according to GoFundMe campaign’s statement. “Our students, families and staff at Sacred Heart need a miracle and I hope that you can find it in your heart to help us during this difficult time.”

According to the statement, Sacred Heart parents got an email from the Archdiocese of Chicago on Oct. 30, informing them that the school is “in jeopardy of closing its doors after 120 years” and that they’d need to raise $225,000 by sometime in January “in order to keep our school operational.”

Manny Gonzalez, a spokesperson with the Archdiocese, confirmed on Dec. 31 that the Archdiocese did send a letter to Sacred Heart families and that the school was among around seven within the Archdiocese that are on the precipice of closing. He added that COVID-19 may not be the sole reason for Sacred Heart’s possible closure.

“It’s not necessarily because of COVID,” he said. “If it was just for this year, I don’t think that would be an issue, but enrollment at the school has been trending downward for some time. While COVID may have accelerated some things, I don’t think that was necessarily the reason it is being considered for closure.”

Gonzalez said that the Archdiocese fundraises for schools “quite a bit.” Most recently, he said, the institution has been raising money for a Tax Credit Scholarship program that allows Illinois residents to donate money to a particular school that is then matched.

“The donation results in 75 percent off of whatever their state income tax is and could potentially increase their refund,” Gonzalez said. “That’s a program we’ve been utilizing and this year we got a two-for-one matching grant from donors, so every dollar people provide to a particular school through this program, that money is tripled by donors. You get $10,00 and it will result in $30,000 [going to the school]. That’s one of the ways we’re urging people to give, but we also understand this is a rough time and a difficult economy.”

During an interview on Dec. 31, Joe Augelli, the operations director for Sacred Heart & St. Eulalia Parish, which oversees the school, confirmed that the GoFundMe was created on behalf of the school.

Augelli said Sacred Heart typically enrolls about 190 Preschool through 8th grade students during any given academic year. Last year, the school enrolled about 183 students. Since March, when the pandemic first began forcing governments to introduce tight restrictions, the school has lost 53 students, he said.

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Sacred Heart School in Melrose Park is facing closure, according to school officials and a representative with the Archdiocese of Chicago. | File 

“Right now we have 127 students,” Augelli explained, adding that the school is also looking to other funding sources, such as scholarships and grants available through the Archdiocese.

“Sacred Heart School has challenges that I am sure we can overcome,” stated the GoFundMe campaign statement.

“At the beginning of the School year, with the uncertainty of the pandemic around us, parents did not feel at ease sending their children to school,” the statement reads. “Many chose to keep their children home for remote learning, with the intention of coming back to Sacred Heart when they return to work and or the virus has ceased or a vaccine is made. We need time to recover our enrollment numbers—right now time is against us.

“We have shown that we can pay our bills with our previous enrollment numbers.  This is the first time that we will not be able to do so.  We are willing to do whatever is necessary to keep it from being closed! Our school is one of the only stable thing[s] in their life during these uncertain times.  We do not want to see it taken away from them.  We want the chance to move ahead in 2021 and heal some of the hardships suffered in 2020.”

Gonzalez also struck a note of optimism, explaining that there’s a rather lengthy process involved in the Archdiocese closing a school.

“We’ve been having meetings with school communities over the past couple of months to discuss this,” he said. “We don’t want families to feel like they’re being blindsided or that they haven’t been informed. We also want to give them the opportunity to find another suitable school in their vicinity [if the school does close]. But I’m not even sure Sacred Heart will close. They might meet their goal. They’ve already done quite a bit on their end of raising the operating funding they need to stay open. I wouldn’t count them out.”

To access the GoFundMe campaign, click here.

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