St. James School in Belvidere to Close
By Penny Wiegert, Editor
May 14, 2020
BELVIDERE—Besides precious human lives, there have been other victims of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some businesses, large and small are finding it hard to withstand the closures and financial toll of measures in place to help mitigate the virus. 
 
Family finances are strained because of the lack of employment. And that trickles down to decisions for purchases, bill paying and yes, even Catholic education.
 
St. James Catholic School in Belvidere felt the final sting of the pandemic’s financial bite on May 6 when Pastor Brian Geary announced in a letter to school families and parishioners that the school would close.
 
Father Geary wrote to announce school enrollments had been declining in the past number of years and in 2019-2020 the school had 104 students in prekindergarten through eighth grades. Only 36 students had registered for the 2020-21 school year. 
 
“The educational integrity of our academic program at St. James cannot be sustained with this enrollment. This enrollment, coupled with the devastating financial impact of closures from COVID-19 has crippled our ability to sustain a Catholic elementary school here at St. James,” his letter explained.
 
Father Geary went on to say that with “consultation and guidance from our parish finance council I presented the grim details of our status to Bishop David Malloy and recommended that he grant permission for us to permanently close St. James School at the end of this 2019-2020 school year and he agreed.”
 
Earlier in April, Father Geary had informed families that “the suspension of Masses has negatively impacted our parish finances. St. James School depends on financial contributions from St. James Parish in order to operate.” 
 
He explained that more than 30% of parish income has been used to support the school and the strain of not being able to collect any income from Masses, plus a steady decline in enrollment has necessitated more fundraisers for supporting the school. The burden of those fundraisers fell to school staff because of a decline in volunteers. 
 
Father Geary also said that “many of the school families, even before the pandemic, were unable to pay full tuition and many pay amounts that do not even reach 25% of the actual cost to educate their children.”
 
Enrollment solicited
 
“Last year we educated 104 students at the school, pre-k through eighth,” he continued. “With the assistance of our principal, every school family has been contacted in regard to registering for the 2020-2021 school year. 
 
“I have met with the school staff to share this decision and to thank them for the great gift they have been to our school. All of our dedicated teachers will be supported by the Rockford Diocese Education Office in finding new employment. Please continue to pray for them,” he said.
 
“I encourage all of our St. James School families, who are able, to continue their education in Catholic schools and I am assured they will be welcomed into any Catholic school in which they wish to enroll. And of course, all our children can continue their faith formation in our parish religious education program.
 
“This is a difficult reality for all of us to face especially during these unprecedented moments not just in our nation but in our world,” Father Geary said. 
 
But he added, “Together we can lean on our Catholic faith which sustains us in these moments of sorrow and joy. Together we will certainly mourn the loss of our school. But together, we can also celebrate our students, their families, our teachers and our administrators who have worked tirelessly to educate our children before and during these trying times. 
 
“I thank them and all of you from the bottom of my heart for contributing to the education of our young people at St. James School,” Father Geary’s letter concluded.
 
Father Geary told The Observer that after the churches are once again open for public worship, a Mass and celebration of the school, staff and families would be planned.
 
Catholic elementary education began at St. James in Belvidere in 1909 when a four-room school house was built along with a convent for the School Sisters of Notre Dame of Milwaukee who staffed the school. 
 
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