Open house set to attract Mater Christi students

?The May 24 event will offer prospective families a chance to meet the Komarek School staff and tour the facility.

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By ROBERT CARR

Looking to gain students shut out after the announced closure of Mater Christi School in North Riverside, nearby Komarek School District 94 will host an open house May 24.

Mater Christi is one of 23 Catholic schools ordered closed by the Archbishop of Chicago because of low enrollment. About 144 Kindergarten through eighth grade students enrolled there are looking for a new school.

Komarek Superintendent Neil Pellicci said he's received many calls of interest from Mater Christi parents.

"Moving from one school to another is traumatic for student. We're hoping to allay some of their fears and make them feel as welcome as possible," Pellicci said.

The forum will be held from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. May 24 at the Komarek gymnasium, and will include a meeting with teachers and a tour of the school.

Mater Christi Principal Marlene Hionis acknowledged the Komarek open house, but said she's following guidance from the Archdiocesan Office of Catholic Schools to instead ask parents to switch to other nearby Catholic schools.

"Komarek is a good school, but we're in the business of a faith-filled education," said Hionis.

She said about 60 of her students have enrolled with other Catholic schools, most at St. Louise de Marillac in LaGrange Park and St. Mary in Riverside.

The archdiocese announced in late February that 23 Catholic schools in Chicago and the suburbs will close in June. A decrease in the number of Catholics in certain areas has resulted in a decline in enrollment, making them too expensive to operate, said Nicholas Wolsonovich, superintendent of the Chicago Archdiocese's schools.

Mater Christi parents fought the closure decision, and formed a fundraising group to prove the school can survive.

Hionis said $75,000 was raised through pledges, but it wasn't enough. The school has averaged around 145 students for the past 10 years, but the archdiocese would like to see enrollments of 200 students or more, Hionis said.

"Money is just one of the stepping stones. Enrollment is another. I just don't foresee us saving the school," she said.

Mater Christi parent and school volunteer Colleen Manika, who has led the fundraising effort to save the school, did not return phone calls for comment.

The Komarek principal said he hopes to attract at least a handful of Mater Christi students. Pellicci said there are probably about 40 students that attend the school from North Riverside, and he hopes at least a small percentage will take an interest in Komarek.

The public school has also seen a large drop of enrollment from its heyday in the late 1960s-early 1970s, when it housed about 750 students, Pellicci said. As the neighborhood grew older, the school hit a low of 225 students enrolled in the mid-1980s. Enrollment then began inching up 5 percent each year, and grew about 10 percent in the last two years, Pellicci said. This year, enrollment is at 410 students.

"We're expecting higher numbers each year. We need to start planning for the increase, and how it will affect our school," Pellicci said.

He said Komarek, a K-8 school, has a lot to offer to new students, from the basic academic curriculum to programs such as foreign language instruction and daily physical education classes.

Over at Mater Christi, however, the teachers and staff are beginning to pack up lesson plans and other education materials that have served the school for 49 years.

"Everybody's very sad, but we're trying to come up with different things to do," Hionis said. "We're still teaching to make it fun for kids, we'll be teaching until the very last day. It's our goal to savor every minute to be together."

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