St. Edmund School leaves behind a wealth of history

? St. Ed's, which struggled to keep enrollments up, was named last week as one of 23 Catholic schools the Archdiocese of Chicago plans to close.

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After its 88th year in Oak Park, St. Edmund School will close its doors for good following the June 3 graduation ceremony.

"I'm very sad about the closing," said Rev. John McGivern, pastor at St. Edmund Parish. "It's a very difficult thing to do, not just for me, but most especially for the children."

Declining enrollments will close 23 grammar schools within the Archdiocese of Chicago, according to reports last week.

McGivern said the archdiocese will help relocate students, and a March 10 parent meeting at St. Edmund will help connect parents with other area Catholic schools.

About half of the school's 165 students are from Oak Park and River Forest, with others coming from nearby communities, McGivern said.

He praised the school's "wonderfully diverse" student body, which "came together and made a beautiful thriving community."

"St. Edmund was the best-kept secret in Oak Park," said Don Giannetti, parish historian. "People didn't realize what a wonderful little school it was."

"We're real proud of our school, even as we close it," McGivern said.

A long history

The school was supposed to open in 1914, but World War I intervened, Giannetti said. A copy of the Palace of Justice in Rouen, France, the 15th century French Gothic design, was completed by Henry Schlacks, the same architect who built the church.

When St. Edmund opened in the fall of 1917, two other Catholic schools, Bishop Quarter and St. Catherine of Sienna, also opened in Oak Park, Giannetti said.

It originally had five classrooms, one of which housed the nuns who ran the school. The school expanded to 17 classrooms during the Baby Boom era, but Giannetti said he wasn't sure when enrollment started to decline.

He said demographic changes and smaller families are partly to blame, as is the parish's area, which includes business districts and apartment buildings, and fewer single-family homes than it used to.

Also to blame is a decline in the donated service that nuns once provided as teachers. Fewer women choose to go into religious life, and more options are available to those who do, Giannetti said.

When he graduated from St. Edmund in 1949, tuition was $15 a year, he noted.

A move to close the school 15 years ago because of declining enrollment was overcome when parishioners fought to keep it open, Giannetti said.

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