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Plans in motion for saving St. Rene

Parishioners, students and community leaders gathered Nov. 6 at St. Rene School Hall to firm up their plans for trying to keep the school open.

ÒWe are going to be strong, we are going to be aggressive,” Anita Cummings told a crowd of over 100 people gathered for the meeting.

Cummings, a parishioner for 47 years at St. Rene and the executive director of the United Business Association of Midway, served as the spokeswoman at the meeting. She has had three children attend St. Rene.

St. Rene School, 6340 S. New England Ave., is one of nine schools that the Chicago Archdiocese plans to close in June. The other local school set to close is St. Turibius, 4120 W. 57th St.{{more}}

Cummings said she was shocked and disappointed to hear that the archdiocese was going to close St. Rene, which opened in 1960. The school has no debt and no previous warnings were given by the archdiocese that the school was in trouble, Cummings said.

Residents at the meeting agreed with Cummings that no prior warning was given. The Rev. Tom Bernas, pastor of St. Rene, received the phone call from the archdiocese on the morning of Oct. 29 informing him that the school would be closing.

Officials from the archdiocese said the affected schools had an average enrollment of 125. Bernas said the enrollment at St. Rene is at about 170.

Several parishioners at the meeting said that if the archdiocese had mentioned that enrollment needed to be at the desired level of 225, they should have been told.

Cummings and other residents wondered why a series of transformation committee meetings were held this year outlining goals for the next three to five years. For whatever reason, no officials from the archdiocese attended these meetings, according to Cummings.

A steering committee was formed at the Nov. 6 meeting to try to convince the archdiocese that the school should remain open.

Among the committee members is Kamaal Khazen, a longtime parishioner who taught for many years at De La Salle Institute before retiring several years ago. He also coached boys soccer at the school.

The other members of the committee are Chris Sanchez, who serves on several programs at the school and is the dean of students at St. Rene; and parishioner John Donato.

The steering committee has several goals they need to emphasize quickly. Marketing and fundraisers are high on the list.

Some local organizations have vowed their assistance. Jerry Hurckes, chief of staff for Cong. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd), attended the meeting and said the congressman’s office will make and distribute ÒSave St. Rene” School buttons.

Other organizations have promised donations. But Khazen pointed out to the crowd that the first goal is Òto convince (the archdiocese) that this school should remain open.”

Parishioner and former school board member Mike Bianchi said this parish has many good people. But other residents suggested that perhaps they have been too quiet.

ÒI just think the archdiocese thought we were just going to roll over,” Cummings said.

While the archdiocese has not given specific reasons as to why St. Rene School should close, Bianchi emphasized that enrollment is the key.

Cummings sympathized with parents whose children were scheduled to return to St. Rene next year. She told one parent that she should enroll their children at another school but to not give up on sending them back to St. Rene.

The steering committee members said a more aggressive approach is necessary to recruit students to attend St. Rene. The archdiocese needs to be convinced that enrollment will increase in the next few years and remain consistently in the range of 225 students.

Cummings added that it’s important to recruit children for preschool and kindergarten, so that those enrollment numbers will improve in the years to come.

Another parishioner stressed how important it is to fill the ministries at the parish. Attending Mass regularly and filling the church pews would get the attention of the archdiocese.

ÒIf you fill the ministries, I guarantee you they won’t close the school,” the parishioner said.

Cummings was in agreement. She added that closing a Catholic school in a neighborhood often has a negative affect on a community.

ÒSometimes this is a blessing in disguise,” said Cummings. ÒIn times of crisis, people pull together.

ÒBut what I see, with everybody here tonight, tells me that they won’t close this school,” Cummings said.

More information about the drive to keep St. Rene open can be found at www.savestreneschool.org.

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