Academy Campuses Open in Aurora
Enrollment tops expectations as Pope St. John Paul II Catholic Academy campuses welcome first students
By Margarita Mendoza, El Observador Editor and Penny Wiegert, Editor
August 23, 2018
AURORA—This is a “new model to improve the quality of the education. It opens the door to many people who would like to enter in the Catholic School, but for many circumstances they cannot,” said Msgr. Arquimedes Vallejo, Vicar for Hispanic Ministry, and pastor of Sacred Heart Parish.
 
He was in charge of cutting the blue ribbon to open Pope St. John Paul II Catholic Academy’s South Campus on Aug. 20. 
 
“Today you see the happiness of people, the day is precious, that for me is providential,” Msgr. Vallejo said.
 
In the simple but joyful 8 a.m. ceremonies that opened the doors of both the north and south campuses of the academy on the now historic day of Aug. 20, parents and students from kindergarten to eighth grade gathered with school staff, neighbors, parishioners, diocesan Task Force members and dignitaries. 
 
Sebastián Ruiz, a second grader was the first one to arrive at the south campus. 
 
“I really like punctuality and I love the education here,” said his mom, Alma Gómez. “Last year was great, now he is in second grade and is going to learn something different.”
 
Sebastián still calls his school Our Lady of Good Counsel, but calling it Pope St. John Paul II Catholic Academy is something parents, personnel and children will have to get used to at both campuses. 
 
The North Campus is located at the former St. Joseph School and the South Campus is at the former Our Lady of Good Counsel School.
 
At the North Campus parents, students and neighbors started gathering before 7:30 a.m. around the blue ribbon-clad doors to take photos and meet teachers. 
 
This is “a new era of Catholic education at the Rockford Diocese. I think they are establishing their own legacy for future students, and it is going to be a model for other schools throughout the diocese,” said Michael Kagan, diocesan superintendent of schools.
 
Kagan attended the opening at the North Campus, along with Aurora Mayor Richard C. Irving, community members and diocesan Task Force members. 
 
The academy is the result of the fusion of four Aurora schools — St. Joseph, St. Therese of Jesus, St. Peter and Our Lady of  Good Counsel — and is supported by those respective parishes along with the parishes of St. Mary, St. Nicholas and Sacred Heart. 
 
The parish schools all formally closed in May and opened for the 2018-19 school year as one, new, global studies academy for pre-kindergarten through eighth grade on two campuses. 
 
As part of the adaptation to the new school, students chose new colors, a new logo and a new mascot. For the first year, though, students may continue wearing previous school uniforms or buy the new academy uniforms in blue plaid. 
 
“Today is a great day for the whole city” because “our school covers all the central neighborhoods in Aurora. I have seen many people, many families who want to be part of what we are doing,” said Father Timothy Mulcahey, pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish and executive pastor of the academy.
 
A total of 415 students started classes Aug. 20 and “surely there will be more to come,” said Father Mulcahey. 
 
Sister Ann Brummel, OP, head of school for the academy, said 225 students attend the academy’s North Campus at 706 High St. and 190 students go to the South Campus at 601 Talma St., where the office of Principal Karen Behrns is located. 
 
“Thanks to God, the number of students exceeded everything we thought and in that sense gives us much optimism. We see that people expect a lot from this school,” added Father Mulcahey. 
 
The opening of the academy is the result of unified work Father Mulcahey explained. 
 
“We all pull together, which is going to be very nice. Parents have come to help, the Parents Association, the Athletic Association, many groups, are already here doing their part,” he said.
 
The group of seven parishes that support the new academy are part of an Administrative Council and participate not only in the decisions that are made but also provide financial support. 
 
Father Mulcahey said together they “have made an Advisory Council including the parish pastor in addition to a parishioner (from each parish) who are part of the council. We have committees such as finance, marketing, and religious education.” 
 
 “I’m excited for the kids and this new adventure. I think it is going to be a very good year. It is very good to think we are going to be able to combine all of our resources,” said Elizabeth Dallas, mother of a second grader. 
 
“We call it JP2 in our house. I expect that the kids will learn a lot (and) make new friends,” she said. “I hope the parents will all work together in the two campuses. I’m the home and school president for the South Campus. I think it is going to be a very good merger.”
 
 “I think this effort from seven parishes is a model that never has been done, so it is super exciting,” said Ana Lisa Musacchio. “And I had the privilege of serving in the Task Force, now I serve in the Advisory Council for the new school. I just think it is going to offer our students a tremendous amount of opportunity and growth for learning.
 
“I have always been educated in a Catholic school system,” she added. “I have such affection and there is something a little different about going to a Catholic institution rather than a public school.”
 
Another Task Force member, Rashel Feldmen, who attended the North Campus opening said, “This is the biggest gift to be given to the kids of this community and I can’t believe how excited I am to be sharing this day.”
 
Pat Leatherwood from St. Therese of Jesus Parish Council and a member of the Task Force that helped form the structure and vision for the academy agreed with Feldmen and said, “What a grand beginning!” 
 
Eliza Delgado is enrolling her daughter, Aravela, 3, in pre-kindergarten at the North Campus of the academy, which is the old St. Joseph School where Delgado was a student.  
 
“It is nice to see all the schools merging together so well,” Delgado said. “I like all the kids here together from different parts of Aurora.”
 
Lorese Fletcher, who lives on the east side of Aurora, decided to enroll her sons, second-grader Kash and kindergartener Denario Moore, in the new academy so “they would get a better education and opportunity.” “We are very excited,” she said as she took pictures of her boys in their new uniforms in front of the North Campus.
 
In the house of the Wolves,  the sports mascot of the Pope St. John Paul II Catholic Academy, the feeling at the beginning of classes in both campuses was summarized by Father Timothy Piasecki, pastor of St. Mary in Aurora. “It is bliss to be in this historic day.” 
 
As the doors were opened and adults headed for coffee and donuts, Sister Ann said, “The best part of school is having children here with their smiling faces. I didn’t sleep very well last night thinking of everything, but I love little kids and I am so happy they’re finally here.”