Ottawa Catholic schools to merge, utilize three campuses

OTTAWA — Accepting a recommendation that would allow them to continue to offer Catholic school education while maintaining the financial viability of their parishes, two Ottawa pastors announced last week that initial steps have been taken to merge St. Patrick’s School, St. Columba’s School and Marquette High School into one school on three campuses.

Father Philip D. Halfacre, pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish and president of the Marquette Pastors’ Board, said the news was communicated in meetings with the faculties and staffs of the schools and their education commissions on Sept. 2. A letter signed by him and Father David M. Kipfer, pastor of St. Columba’s Parish, was sent home to all the grade school families on Sept. 3 and was included in the parish bulletins last weekend.

William G. Novotney, the retired regional superintendent of schools for LaSalle County and a member of St. Mary of the Field Parish in Grand Ridge, has accepted the invitation to oversee the process.

“Many of the details have yet to be worked out but the new configuration will allow our parishes and schools greater financial breathing room,” the Ottawa pastors said in their letter.

“We are approaching this with both resignation and hope,” they wrote. “Both of us are saddened by the reality we are facing, yet we trust that God’s providence is guiding us into the future.”

THE ACTION being taken in Ottawa was one of the major regional recommendations made in “Renewing Our Mission: A Blueprint for Our Future.” The long-range plan for Catholic school education was developed after a two-year study of diocesan schools facilitated by Meitler Consultants of Hales Corners, Wis.

In talking to people, Father Halfacre said he has tried to make it clear that the changes in Ottawa have not been imposed on them “from above.”

“While the bishop has accepted the recommendation of the Meitler group and it was his decision to make, the reality of our financial situation is that we have to do something if we’re going to continue to be in operation,” he told The Catholic Post.

In the letter written by Father Halfacre and Father Kipfer, it was noted that their parishes are spending more than 70 percent of Sunday offerings on grade school and high school support, and school costs are increasing at a greater rate than parish income.

SOME PEOPLE are sad that their parish school is going to be combined and transformed, Father Halfacre acknowledged.

“At the same time there is a sense of inevitability about it,” he said. “And others are genuinely excited about having the prospect of a much larger and much leaner school.”

Brother William Dygert, CSC, diocesan superintendent of schools, emphasized that no implementation date has been set.

“I would expect the earliest it would happen would be August of 2010. The latest it would happen, I would think, would be August of 2011,” he told The Post. “Nothing is going to happen in the middle of year. The current school year will work itself out with the status quo.”

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