The next century at St. Luke School could start with a period of large-scale change if officials are able to realize their newly revealed plan to modernize the 100-year-old parochial school’s curriculum, facilities and extra-curricular programs.
School and church leaders celebrated the school’s centennial Saturday night in front of a crowd of around 275 people, beginning the evening with a mass before inviting alums and school families to take a tour of the last 100 years through decorated classrooms, each one signifying one decade of the school’s past.
Later, second-year principal Andrew DiMarco gathered the crowd and outlined a three-pronged plan for the school’s future: state-of-the-art curriculum and learning materials for teachers and students; upgrades to the building’s aging facilities, including an expansion of its early childhood center; and enhancing extra-curricular options for students, including an update to the school’s gymnasium and lobby area.
“Putting those three pieces together could be a good foundation,” DiMarco said.
The fundraising effort for the projects is already underway through a campaign that officials plan to finance through “parishioners, school families and some of our community friends,” and not tuition, said Sheila Price, the church’s director of stewardship and development.
St. Luke School opened in 1921, 34 years after the adjacent church was founded. The building that houses the school at 519 Ashland Ave. has not undergone a major renovation since it was rebuilt in 1956.
Enrollment at St. Luke was as high as 725 students when the new building opened but those numbers have fallen in the decades since, down to just 265 students between pre-kindergarten and eighth grade in the 2020-21 school year. That number jumped this year, up to 300 total students, an increase Price believed was connected to the school’s decision to offer in-person learning despite the pandemic last school year.
“St. Luke, along with all Catholic schools, was open for face-to-face education and in my opinion knocked it out of the park for what we offered families,” Price said.
Growing enrollment beyond its current level is, indirectly, part of the future vision, and the efforts are focused on the school’s youngest students. Price said they are interested in building a solid base at the youngest grades in the hopes of keeping those students within the school through the remainder of their elementary and middle school years.
“We are definitely looking to grow enrollment, especially when it comes to early childhood, because we do feel that we can create some great foundations for the families to understand what we are offering here,” Price said. “If we can grow that, and I think that is one of the goals we want to focus on, then we would be super thrilled that we can offer this type of education to a lot of families.”
Expanded enrollment could also come as a byproduct of the decision last year by the Archdiocese of Chicago to merge St. Luke parish with St. Bernardine in Forest Park. St. Bernardine continues to hold regular mass, but the operational offices have been combined at St. Luke, a transition that is ongoing, Price said.
St. Bernardine has not operated a school in recent years and DiMarco said St. Luke already has a significant number of students from Forest Park (only River Forest residents make up a larger portion of the student body), but growth from families previously connected to St. Bernardine remains a goal.
“We’re going to use the relationship to come together as a parish and continue to use that,” DiMarco said. “We look at Forest Park as an area of growth.”
DiMarco said he foresees the planned upgrades at St. Luke beginning within the next two to four years, calling the project a “foundation to move the school forward for many decades to come,” charting a path ahead after a Saturday night party to celebrate the past.
“It’s a huge milestone to make it 100 years, especially when we’re in a community that has great schools as well,” Price said. “Everybody is very excited about the future of St. Luke School. It has stood the test of time.”
More information on the St. Luke School centennial is available at stluke100.com.