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St. Walter saved: Morgan Park Catholic school to remain open next year

St. Walter Elementary School in Morgan Park

St. Walter Elementary School in Morgan Park serves 118 students. Tuition is $6,000 and some 40 percent of students qualify for free or reduced school lunch. | Google Streetview

St. Walter Elementary School will remain open next fall thanks to hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations pledged to save the nearly 70-year-old school in Morgan Park.

According to a letter sent to school families and shared with the Sun-Times Wednesday, St. Walter was “able to secure more than $364,000 in pledges” this week — which along with the school’s $60,655 endowment is enough to cover expected operating deficits for this year and next.

The Archdiocese of Chicago originally asked St. Walter to have the money ready by Jan. 7 but granted the school an extension until Feb. 11 to “secure the money based on pledges” the school has received.

Until the money is received, the archdiocese does not consider the funds to be “cash in hand,” the letter said.

St. Walter Principal Sharon O’Toole said she is confident the school will have all of the funds deposited by the new deadline.

“We’re very thankful for the archdiocese for giving us an extension,” O’Toole said in an interview.

St. Walter’s serves 118 students. Tuition is $6,000 and some 40 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch. Just over half of the student body is black while 56 percent of all students come from non-Catholic households.

To stay open over a long-term basis, O’Toole and the rest of St. Walter has their work cut out for them: A one-time $100,000 grant from the archdiocese helped the school balance its budget this year. She said the only way to prevent future shortfalls is to increase the school’s enrollment and to keep fundraising throughout the year.

“We have some big next steps we need to take,” she said. “We need to keep raising money. We need to have a savings account. It’s important that we’ve met this goal but it can’t stop here.”

By New Year’s Eve, the school had raised close to $200,000 but had a week to secure another $160,000.

O’Toole credits “prominent businessmen” and Big Shoulders Fund, a Catholic charity that supports struggling Catholic schools in Chicago, for coming through at the end to save the school from closing its doors.

“I always knew there were people out there who believed that a small school like ours is important to its community just like the big Catholic schools,” she said. “It’s a great message to share — when people pull together, things get done.”

St. Walter is located at 11741 S. Western Avenue. Its annual open house will take place Jan. 27 from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Update: A previous version of this story misstated the date of St. Walter Elementary’s open house. It will take place on Jan. 27.