Our Lady of Grace Catholic Academy in East Moline will remain open; review set
EAST MOLINE — Parents, students and faculty at Our Lady of Grace Catholic Academy learned on April 12 that the school, which had been slated to close at the end of this academic year, would remain open. The good news came in a statement from Bishop Louis Tylka.
“We have determined that our previous decision to close Our Lady of Grace Catholic Academy was based on an incomplete picture of the financial sustainability of the school,” according to the bishop’s statement. “Although the school clearly has financial and enrollment challenges, we have determined that the decision to close the school will be reversed and an immediate plan of action will be put into place to determine the ongoing sustainability of the school as a third Catholic grade school in the Rock Island Vicariate.”
The statement, taken from a letter written by Bishop Tylka to Father James Pallardy, who is responsible for Our Lady of Grace, goes on to say that the review process will be overseen by Russ Courter, the diocesan director of parish and school finance. The Diocesan Chancery will provide oversight and supervision.
The other two diocesan elementary schools in the vicariate are Seton Catholic School in Moline and Jordan Catholic School in Rock Island, which had been prepared to welcome the students and families from Our Lady of Grace. All three enroll students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.
Funding had become a major issue for Our Lady of Grace, said Dr. Sharon Weiss, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Peoria. While not solely to blame, the pandemic heightened the sense of urgency for something to be done.
“With the parishes not having people in church, there was obviously a gap,” she explained. “Our ordinary incomes have been hit and we cannot continue to subsidize schools as we have been.”
She added that government assistance through the Paycheck Protection Program, for example, has ended.
Strategic planning also has taken into account enrollment and “big ticket items” such as the need for capital improvements to aging buildings. The campus at Our Lady of Grace has four buildings to maintain.
Weiss said the Office of Catholic Schools and the diocesan Office of Finance watch the schools carefully and work with pastors, principals and school communities to help them grow and remain strong. A team had visited Our Lady of Grace two or three times over the last few years, but changes in parish and school leadership have made it difficult to build momentum.
The pandemic further slowed their progress, she added.
Planning is so important because Catholic education is important, Weiss said, noting that the conversation about sustainability and viability of Catholic schools is happening around the country.
COMMITTED TO THE MISSION
“I am committed to the mission of Catholic education and I greatly value our schools’ role in the formation of our youth,” Bishop Tylka said in the statement released April 12.
“At times, we must recognize the fact that the circumstances that were in place when a school first opened have changed over the decades. Demographics change as does the economy in which we find ourselves,” he explained.
“As we look to the future, decisions about the sustainability of our schools must be data driven and not based on emotions or attachments to our schools and parishes,” he said. “Our desire to keep a Catholic school open must be matched by a willingness to sustain enrollment and maintain a solid financial foundation.”
Our Lady of Grace Catholic Academy was created when St. Anne School and St. Mary School, both in East Moline, merged in 2006. It was located on the St. Anne campus because it could accommodate more students and had a greater potential for expansion at the time.