Three weeks ago, Rev. Stan Kuca, pastor of St. Bernardine Catholic Church, received the news from the Archdiocese of Chicago that their real estate department was going to pay the local congregation $30,000 a year to rent space in their vacant parish school building.
In the Oct. 18 Sunday bulletin, Fr. Kuca explained, “Recently the Archdiocese was in need of a storage space for remains like tabernacles, pews, baptism fonts, pictures, etc. left after closing some churches and rectories.”
The Real Estate Office initiated the negotiations because St. Bernardine is centrally located in the archdiocese and close to the Eisenhower Expressway. It offered to rent part of the first floor of the school building and to share expenses for utilities, along with the $30,000 rental payment.
Mike O’Brien, who handles the finances at St. Bernardine, said, “Father Stan presented the archdiocesan application for rental to the Finance Committee and it was unanimously approved. Everyone I have spoken to is happy that the school is being rented.”
The Archdiocese of Chicago closed the school in 2013 due to declining enrollment and the increasing cost of staff and building maintenance. Until now, the building was used only occasionally for parish programs like the Kingdom Retreat and for social gatherings. Julie Doloszycki, who graduated from the school and now chairs the St. Bernardine Parish Council, said the vacant building has been a drain on parish members, both emotionally and financially.
“When the archdiocesan representative came out to make the announcement about the school closing,” she recalled, “it was like attending a wake and funeral for a very close relative or friend.” Although exact numbers regarding the cost for maintaining the mostly unused building were not available, Fr. Kuca said St. Bernardine’s budget for utilities, maintenance and insurance for the rectory, church and school buildings combined is between $80,000 and $100,000 a year.
The offer from the archdiocese was an unexpected gift, at least in terms of the church’s financial balance sheet.
“Since our school has been closed,” Fr. Kuca wrote in the bulletin, “we have been looking for a tenant who will pay us rent, which will help us to cover some of our expenses of keeping the building running. Unfortunately not many offers were addressed to the Real Estate Office until this offer was made.”
Members of St. Bernardine were relieved when they read the news in the Oct. 18 bulletin. Lin Beribak said, “I am pleased that the building has a purpose although it saddens me that it is no longer used for teaching children. With the rent payments decreasing the money flow from the parish for maintenance of the building, I’m hoping those monies can be diverted back into ministries and programs that have been scaled back for economy.”
Jim Murray said simply, “I’m glad the archdiocese is renting the space. It is currently being unused and the parish sure can use the money.”
St. Bernardine is not the only parish in the archdiocese whose school has been closed and has been a financial drain on the congregation’s balance sheet. According to their own records, the Archdiocese of Chicago has closed over 140 K-8 schools between 1984 and 2006, including St. Dionysus, St. Anthony and Mary Queen of Heaven in Cicero, St. Charles Borromeo and Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Melrose Park, St. James and St. Eulalia in Maywood and St. Simeon in Bellwood. The Archdiocesan Real Estate Office lists 16 buildings in Chicago, one in Antioch and one in Stickney as being for sale.