St. Joseph High School, 10900 W. Cermak Rd. in Westchester, will close at the end of this school year. Principal David Hotek announced the closure in a statement released on April 13.
“Amid the current COVID pandemic, with its severe impact on the finances of many families, and the serious fiscal burdens St. Joseph High School has experienced during the past several years, as well as our steadily declining school enrollment, the Board of Directors has reluctantly made the recommendation to the Christian Brothers to cease operation of St. Joseph High School at the conclusion of the current academic year,” he explained. “After a comprehensive review by the leadership council of the Christian Brothers, the recommendation of our Board was accepted.”
In a phone interview on Tuesday afternoon, Hotek said that the news comes after years of financial struggles. The pandemic, however, proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.
“There have been rumors around for a long time, but after the pandemic began, things became more and more difficult,” Hotek said, adding that declining enrollment levels over the years only exacerbated the school’s financial troubles.
Hotek said the last day students will be in the building is May 28. He said parents and employees of the school will have to “make their own choice” about future attendance and employment.
St. Joe’s is under the auspices of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, also known as the Christian Brothers or Lasallian Brothers, which is a Roman Catholic congregation that sponsors and manages four other Lasallian high schools, including De La Salle in Chicago and Montini Catholic High School in Lombard. The congregation also sponsors and manages Lewis University in Romeoville.
“Any parent of a student at St. Joe’s has the freedom or choice to transfer their child to wherever they wish,” Hotek said. “Other Lasallian schools have offered to assist our students if they want to go elsewhere, but families will have to apply.”
The same goes for St. Joe’s employees, the principal said, adding that St. Joe’s employees who apply for work at other Lasallian institutions may get preference, but they’ll still have to go through the traditional application process.
Hotek said the future of St. Joe’s campus is still up in the air. The building is owned by the Christian Brothers, but the high school’s board of directors will do the negotiating with whoever wants to purchase the facility.
Hotek said the school has yet to figure out what to do with the memorabilia and other commemorative material. The 61-year-old institution is perhaps best known for being the home of Hall of Fame NBA player Isiah Thomas, who graduated from St. Joe’s in 1979.
The late St. Joe’s basketball coach Gene Pingatore is the winningest coach in Illinois basketball history. The school won state basketball championships in 1999 and 2015.
“We haven’t given any thought yet to what will happen to all of the artifacts and trophies and that sort of thing,” Hotek said. “Right now, they’ll be placed in the archives in our building, but beyond that we don’t know yet.”
Westchester Trustee Frank Perry, who graduated from St. Joe’s in 1988, said that the campus sits in a TIF district.
“St. Joe’s had asked for the village’s assistance in trying to get rid of that land a couple years back, so we put together the TIF especially for them to be able to move,” Perry, who ran uncontested for mayor on April 6. “We’re going to keep on focusing on developing that area, so that the Christian Brothers can get out from underneath it.”
In the meantime, Perry and Hotek said, all anyone can do is mourn.
“I really loved that school,” Perry said.