Parents, pastor eager to make St. Jude financially stable
Rumors of plans to merge with Wheaton school quashed
A meeting last week at St. Jude Catholic School helped to quell rumors that the Aspen Hill school would be merging with St. Catherine Labouré in Wheaton and inspired a renewed sense of determination to make sure the school continues to thrive, parents and the pastor said.
The Rev J. William Hines, pastor of the Shrine of St. Jude Catholic Church in Aspen Hill, said he told the more than 500 people gathered for the Nov. 17 meeting that while some changes are needed at the school, that does not include integrating with St. Catherine Labouré or any other school.
"We need to raise some more money and enrollment, but there are no plans at this time to merge with any school," he said.
The meeting came about one week after rumors began circulating that St. Jude and St. Catherine Labouré could become one school beginning in the 2010-2011 school year with a new name, mascot and uniforms.
The meeting had been planned before the rumors began. In a letter sent home to parents Nov. 10, Hines wrote that St. Jude was facing financial and enrollment challenges and that he felt it was important for the parish and school community to meet to discuss those issues and how they could be addressed.
Kathy Dempsey, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Washington, said St. Jude has 279 students this year, a loss of 39 students from last year's enrollment.
Financially, last fiscal year St. Jude School had an operating deficit of approximately $454,000, which was paid by the parish, she said. This year, St. Jude is expected to have an estimated loss of slightly more than $200,000. Dempsey said St. Jude also has more than $1 million in an endowment fund.
Heidi McAuliffe, chair of St. Jude's School Advisory Board, said she thinks the meeting went a long way toward dispelling fears.
"People still have a lot of questions and concerns, but on the whole it was very positive," she said.
McAuliffe said she came out of the meeting with a long list of suggestions, such as putting together more fundraisers, asking parishioners and alumni to sponsor students, seeking alumni donations and continuing to ask area businesses for contributions.
St. Jude's Home and School Association and the school advisory board will be meeting in the coming weeks "to look at the proposals and suggestions and see which ones are feasible," McAuliffe said.
She added Hines has also charged the advisory board with looking into the possibility of forming a regional school if St. Jude ever needs to go that route.
The Rev. Michael A. Salah, pastor of St. Catherine Labouré Catholic Church, said last week he also planned to talk with his parents and parishioners Nov. 17 to see if they could come up with any solutions to declining enrollment and funds.
Salah, who could not be reached for comment for this report, had planned to suggest tithing, taking up a second collection at services or fundraising. He said merging with another school, like St. Jude's or any of the six others in the area, or asking a parish without a school to help support St. Catherine's parish, might also be an option.
"I have to see what the parents want first," he said last week. "There are a lot of intelligent people in this parish and I'm sure we can come up with some sort of solution."
Hines said he it feels good to know that there are so many people willing to support St. Jude, no matter what it takes. He added there are no plans to hold another community meeting any time soon.
"We're in good shape, but we have our challenges," Hines said. "It's nice to know that there's a positive effort and attitude in our community to help the school."