MATTOON -- Immaculate Conception Church has asked the region's bishop for permission to close the Mattoon parish's school, St. Mary School, due to declining enrollment.
The Rev. John Titus, pastor of Immaculate Conception Church, wrote to Bishop Thomas John Paprocki, bishop of Springfield-in-Illinois, on Wednesday to ask for permission to close St. Mary, 2000 Richmond Ave. Titus shared this letter with Immaculate Conception's parish over the weekend and had this letter printed in the parish bulletin.
Titus emphasized on Monday that no decision is official until it has been approved by the bishop and that he has not heard a response from the bishop yet regarding the closure request. Officials at the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois could not be reached for comment on Monday.
In his letter to the bishop, Titus states that he wrote to the parish last month to explain where they stood regarding enrollment at St. Mary for the 2018-19 school year.
"At that time, we had 44 students registered for the new year (pre-K through fifth grade). After our continuing efforts to share the good news about the mission of our parish school, including a pre-school open house this past Tuesday evening (attended by no potential school families), our enrollment number remains at 44.
"Based on these numbers, I do not feel it would be fiscally responsible to continue the operation of our school. The trend of decreasing enrollment over the last several years continues, and parish census and community demographics do not point to a realistic hope of a growing number of potential students.
"In justice to our school families, faculty, and staff, I believe the decision to close the school at the end of the current year needs to be made now. After consultation with the school board and pastoral council, I have accepted the recommendation of our parish finance council to do so."
St. Mary reports on its website, http://www.stmaryschoolmattoon.org/, that the school was founded in 1863 as St. Anne Academy. This institution was renamed St. Joseph School in 1893 as it moved into a newly constructed two-story building. The current St. Mary School building was constructed in 1963.
Principal Nicole Durbin said Monday that St. Mary has a total of 13 teachers and support staff members. She started working at the school as a teacher in 2002 and became the principal there in 2008.
"It is just extremely sad, sad for everyone. I hate to see it happen," Durbin said of St. Mary School closing.
St. Mary's Parent-Teacher Guild Secretary Therese Copsy said on Monday that her family has long ties to the school. As examples, Copsy said she attended grades kindergarten-eighth at St Mary, and her father and aunt were also students there. She said her son is a third-grader at St. Mary and has loved all of his teachers there.
"It's a wonderful school. The teachers are just incredible. They are very devoted to the job and very compassionate with the children. I have nothing but positive things to say about the school and the staff," Copsy said, adding that Titus does a great job in his role at the school.
Copsy said the Parent-Teacher Guild has been active in helping organize fundraisers and providing other support for the school. Copsy said they had already planned activities for the new school year when they got word about the closure recommendation. Copsy said everyone in the extended family at St. Mary has been sad because it's great school and they are all close knit.
Titus noted in his letter that the "Bright Beginnings for Promising Tomorrows" fundraising dinner for St. Mary School is Saturday night. He said funds raised will continue to support the financial needs of the school.
"Although the 'Promising Tomorrows' will look a bit different than those we initially hoped for, I believe that they are ours to be had. Prudent stewardship of our spiritual, human, physical, and financial resources will lead us to a future that God has already imagined. I believe we can and must commit ourselves to the ongoing faith formation of our families, our youth, young adults, and community members of all ages," Titus wrote.