BELVIDERE — St. James Catholic School in Belvidere will close at the end of the school year, church and school officials announced Wednesday.
Enrollment at the preK through eighth grade school has plummeted. The state’s restrictions on public gatherings because of the novel coronavirus has suspended church services at St. James, which has resulted in financial losses for the church and school.
The Rev. Brian Geary, pastor of St. James Catholic Church, and the officials from the Diocese of Rockford broke the news to teachers and school staff Wednesday. Parents and parish members were sent a letter.
In his letter, Geary called the closing of St. James school — the only Catholic school in Boone County — "a dark reality we must all face."
The parish gives the school about $250,000 a year, Geary explained in his letter. It amounts to about 30% of what the church collects each Sunday.
But with the sudden decline in donations since the suspension of Mass in March, Geary said, the church is unable to support the school as it once did.
St James families and community members raised $5,660 in the past seven days on a fundraising website, but it wasn’t enough to keep the school open.
According to the site, the parents wanted to raise $10,000 so the school could reopen in the fall and students and teachers could have one last year together. The $10,000 would make up for revenue lost from spring fundraisers that had to be canceled.
"While we understand the financial constraints that many Catholic schools face today, our students, teachers, and parents are praying for one more year," the site states.
"In most closing situations students, teachers, and parents have emotional closure and ample time to make arrangements ... In this case, the students were unknowingly ripped from their school year on March 12 and truly need the opportunity to return to St. James School for the 2020-2021 school year."
Enrollment at the also has declined. The school had 104 students last year. When registration for the 2020-2021 school year closed May 1, only 36 students had signed up.
"The educational integrity of our academic program at St. James cannot be sustained with this enrollment," Geary wrote. "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."
The decision to close the school at St. James is similar to a 2018 decision to close St. Bernadette Catholic School in Rockford.
While St. Bernadette’s school was scheduled to close in 2019, enrollment for what was going to be the school’s final year had dropped to 30 students, prompting school leaders to shut the doors early.
St. James is the fifth Catholic school in the Rockford area to close in recent years. The Cathedral of St. Peter School and another St. James school closed in 2019, as did St. Edward School.
The diocese opened All Saints Catholic Academy in 2019 in the old St. James school building in downtown Rockford.
"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," Geary wrote. "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."
Corina Curry: firstname.lastname@example.org; @corinacurry