St. Mary School in E. Dubuque to Close
By Penny Wiegert, Editor
February 20, 2020
EAST DUBUQUE—Father Peter Snieg, pastor of St. Mary Parish here and Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Menominee, announced to teachers, parents and parishioners on Feb. 14 that St. Mary Parish elementary school will close at the end of this school year.
 
Michael Kagan, Rockford Diocese superintendent for Catholic Schools met with teachers about the decision. All will be provided with job search assistance. Students and families will also receive assistance in enrolling in area Catholic schools.
 
St. Mary Parish and School quick facts
 
The parish of St. Mary was established in 1868 with a school built in 1924.

The current St. Mary School was built in 1966 and opened to students in 1967. 

When discussion began to close St. Mary School during the 2016-2017 school year enrollment was 53 students in kindergarten through 8th grade, with eight children enrolled in pre-school.

There were 562 families registered at St. Mary Parish.
2019-2020 School Year:

Enrollment for the current 2019-2020 School Year was 48 students in kindergarten through 8th grade, with three children enrolled in pre-school.

There are 521 families currently registered at St. Mary  Parish.
 
Source: Diocese of Rockford
“It is with sadness, but also faith that I inform you that Bishop (David) Malloy, in consultation with the (diocesan) Education Office and the St. Mary Parish Council, has given permission to close St. Mary School at the end of this current academic year,” Father Snieg wrote in a letter to parishioners.
 
“You may be aware that four years ago it was announced that St. Mary’s School would close, and a decision was made to give three more years to attempt to build enrollment and try to create a vibrant and growing school. Unfortunately, the enrollment has not increased, and this low number of students creates a very limited program that few families seem to be interested in,” the letter said.
 
In January 2017 parents of St. Mary School students were presented with grim realities of demographics, enrollment and finances forcing a decision between the parish and diocese to close their school. Enrollment has gone down every year since 2010 when there were 93 students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grades to the current enrollment of 53.
 
After that meeting and a passionate outcry from parents and area Catholics, former pastor Father Dean Smith worked with diocesan officials to develop a plan to keep the school viable and open. During a parish meeting in May of 2017 parents, parishioners and diocesan officials reviewed criteria required to keep the school open and viable for a period of three years: That included:
 
“Raising $100,000 per year (or whatever amount is necessary to keep the parish subsidy of the school at no more than 30 percent of ordinary income);
 
 “Maintaining current levels of weekly parish ordinary income; 
 
“Meeting the annual parish target for the Diocesan Appeal;
 
“Increasing tuition to be more in line with other schools; and,
 
“Increasing enrollment by at least 10 percent per year, which is five students in the first year.”
 
Despite the parish’s best efforts to meet the criteria by raising money and developing an “M4100 Campaign,” which means the school is “marching forward” to get 100 benefactors, $100,000, 100 students, enrollment did not change.
 
Today the school has an enrollment of only 53 with 48 students in kindergarten through eighth grade and three in preschool. 
 
In addition to his letter Father Snieg provided parishioners with detailed information on the issues prompting the decision to close the school. The major factors are:
 
– Low enrollment due to low population in the communities surrounding the school.
 
– Catholic population in the area decreasing.
 
– Families having fewer children.
 
– Costs to operate a school with low enrollment increasing.
 
– Families unable to pay full tuition.
 
The school currently has four full time teachers and a part-time kitchen and lunch worker. The parish is currently spending $8,100 per student with a total budget of $410,000. Father Snieg also reported that the school now needs a new roof at an estimated cost of $175,000. 
 
“The cost of the roof alone could take all that St. Mary’s parish currently has for daily operations and that would create the inability for us to pay our bills. We cannot spend down all that we have and throw our parishes into a position of debt,” he wrote.
 
Father Snieg told parishioners that “St. Mary’s is anchored by a population that has been very faithful to Christ and His Church and to their parish. Many have already raised their families and continue to support the parish. 
 
“Despite years of continuous operation of St. Mary School, the numbers of younger parishioners has decreased and this is verifiable by so few baptisms and weddings at both St. Mary’s and Nativity,” he continued. 
 
“There is no doubt that the Catholic Church, and faith in general, is in a period of decline here in the United States, although growing in other parts of the world. There are numerous reasons that are beyond our control. 
 
“I am optimistic and I do believe that the Catholic Church will see a period of renewal and a change in the Catholic culture, but this could happen many years from now. Until that time we need to make adjustments to survive and use our resources wisely. We cannot ignore the facts,” Father Snieg added.
 
In the absence of supporting the school, Father Snieg told parishioners two things could be developed immediately:
 
– A parish scholarship endowment to assist parish families in affording Catholic tuition elsewhere, with a significant gift for each child. 
 
– A full-time position for religious education that would coordinate parish volunteers to teach for an expanded robust religious education program. 
 
The current school building, according to Father Snieg, would still be used by the parish for religious education programs and other parish events.
 
“These decisions are never easy. The families at St. Mary and Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary parishes should be proud of their work together these last three years. So too, should they be proud of their legacy of faith. I know they will continue to work together in educating their children in the faith through their strong example and in the creation of new parish religious education programs and faith building opportunities,” said Kagan.