Diocese of Joliet announces future of Catholic schools in Lockport
Bishop Ronald A. Hicks of the Diocese of Joliet has accepted the unanimous recommendation of his targeted restructuring committee regarding St. Dennis Catholic School and St. Joseph Catholic School in Lockport.
This unanimous, joint decision comes after a deliberate process involving parents of children attending both schools; pastors, principals, faculty and staff of both schools; and the respective school boards, parish councils and parish finance councils.
This thoughtful process began in late July, shortly after the diocese had streamlined its own operations at the Blanchette Catholic Center by reducing staffing from 99 to 70 employees and updating its organizational chart to reflect an outward-focused, effective and efficient approach. On July 27, Bishop Hicks convened the inaugural meeting of the diocesan targeted restructuring committee to begin a review of the vibrancy and sustainability of parishes and schools in specific geographic areas of the diocese – hence the term of “targeted restructuring.” The team he assembled consists of himself; the eight pastors who serve as deans of the diocese’s eight deaneries; and senior diocesan staff. General Counsel Maureen Harton directs and oversees meetings of the targeted restructuring committee.
Over the subsequent weeks and months, members of the committee first reviewed diocesan-wide statistics – such as trends in number of clergy, Mass attendance, school enrollment, school and parish financial health, structural maintenance needs, etc. – before asking the eight deans for recommendations of schools and parishes that require further scrutiny. The targeted restructuring committee then categorized the recommendations into three stages: urgent; in the next year; and in two to three years. Bishop Hicks wrote of this process in his October column.
St. Dennis Catholic School and St. Joseph Catholic School, both located in Lockport, were placed in the urgent phase due to the following trends over several years: the combined enrollment of both schools has remained mostly static or declined; overall structural maintenance needs have increased in both frequency and cost; and staffing needs have struggled to be met amid an unrelenting nationwide educator shortage.
Harton met with the pastors and principals of each school regarding the urgent status. Principals notified faculty, staff and school board members on or about October 11, when a letter was sent from the diocese to school parents, informing them of their school’s urgent status and the need to discern a new model of Catholic education to ensure its future in Lockport. On October 28, the diocese sent a letter to the faith communities of both schools and their respective parishes, inviting them to a November 14 meeting, at which diocesan representatives would share enrollment trends and financial and structural needs data, as well as listen to parent and community input on five scenarios determined by those trends and data:
- One combined new school is created at the St. Joseph campus.
- One combined new school is created at the St. Dennis campus.
- One combined new school is created using both campuses.
- St. Joseph Catholic School is merged into St. Dennis Catholic School, and St. Dennis’ identity is maintained.
- St. Dennis Catholic School is merged into St. Joseph Catholic School, and St. Joseph’s identity is maintained.
This letter also contained a Q-and-A for parents, faculty and staff, and a link to a survey asking for input on the five scenarios.
Before the meeting, diocesan representatives from the Catholic Schools Office, parish and diocesan finance, buildings and properties, legal services, human resources and communications read the more than 1,000 survey responses, as well as input from school boards and parish finance councils. These same representatives, as well as school and parish leadership, attended the November 14 meeting. They shared enrollment trends and financial and structural needs data and listened to every individual who wanted to speak, taking extensive notes so that every thought was heard.
The survey results, input from school boards and parish finance councils, and notes from the meeting were shared with the targeted restructuring committee, which met on November 16 to discern a recommendation for Bishop Hicks on Catholic education in Lockport. After thorough and prayerful consideration of the various data and stakeholder responses, the committee unanimously decided that one combined new school would be created using both campuses, with the goal of developing into a regional school serving the communities of Lockport and Homer Glen at the start of the 2024-25 academic year. Although served by the two parishes of Our Mother of Good Counsel and St. Bernard, Homer Glen lacks a Diocese of Joliet Catholic school presence.
The targeted restructuring committee sent the unanimous recommendation to Bishop Hicks. After prayerful discernment, he accepted the recommendation.
The 2023-24 academic year will serve as a transition year, during which the two-campus school will be called Saints Dennis and Joseph Catholic Academy. Pre-K and kindergarten students will attend the St. Joseph campus, with the potential inclusion of first grade, depending on enrollment. Students in the remaining grades will attend the St. Dennis campus. During this transition year, no rebranding will take place, meaning there will be no changes in current uniforms or mascots.
Over the next six months, a committee composed of the pastors, principals and school board presidents, along with the Catholic Schools Office and other diocesan representatives, will work together to determine staffing needs; curriculum; athletics and extracurricular activities; an integration of school traditions; and a sound financial structure for the 2023-24 academic year. During this transition year, input from parents, students, faculty, pastors, and parish leadership from Homer Glen will be sought in the effort to develop Saints Dennis and Joseph Catholic Academy into a regional school with a new name and new identity by the beginning of the 2024-25 academic year. This regional school will be governed by a board of directors.
The diocese is sincerely grateful to the various stakeholders for their patience and thoughtful input throughout this process. We pray for a collaborative transition to this new era of Catholic education in Lockport as we continue to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
About the Diocese of Joliet
The Diocese of Joliet serves approximately 545,000 Catholics in 125 parishes and missions in DuPage, Ford, Grundy, Iroquois, Kankakee, Kendall and Will Counties, a geographic area of 4,218 square miles. The diocese has more than 2,700 employees in its agencies and ministries, including two early childhood education centers, 40 elementary schools, three high schools and Catholic Charities.