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Catholic schools will close, consolidate in Midtown



The Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph will close Our Lady of Guadalupe and Our Lady of the Angels Catholic schools in August and consolidate them at the former Derrick Thomas Academy in midtown Kansas City.

Our Lady of the Angels, at 4232 Mercier St., has 154 students, and Our Lady of Guadalupe at 2310 Madison Ave., has 69 students, Jeremy Lillig, managing director of the Bright Futures Fund, told Kansas City Hispanic News.

The fund will administer, in partnership with the diocese, a monetary donation of an undisclosed amount from the Loretto Foundation that will pay for the entire project, Lillig said. The former academy, at 201 E. Armour Blvd., which closed in 2013, can accommodate as many as 625 students. The property has a 90,000-square-foot, five-story building.

Tuition at the new school will not be increased, Lillig said. The Bright Futures Fund subsidizes tuition for nearly all students at Guadalupe, Angels and Holy Cross Catholic School, at 121 N. Quincy Ave., in Kansas City’s Northeast area, as part of the fund’s Strong City Schools program. The fund currently subsidizes the operations of Angels with $376,200 and Guadalupe with $296,000, Lillig said. All of both schools’ existing budgets are necessary for their operations in the current school year, so no money from their budgets will be transferred to the new school.

Holy Cross has 186 students, and Lillig said the intent is to increase the number of students there to 225. The school will remain open because “it’s the consolidated school in that area,” Lillig said, “and our goal is to help the community.”

“We’re not discounting any work that’s been done or any legacy (at Angels and Guadalupe),” he said. “Our goal is to help as many students as possible.”

The fund also administers the Honoring Family Scholarships and the Richard and Olivia Mock Scholarship Program, which help families pay for their children’s tuition at select Catholic high schools. The diocese underwrites all the fund’s administrative costs.

The consolidation of the Angels and Guadalupe schools “allows us to be able to do some things we couldn’t do otherwise,” Dan Peters, the diocese’s superintendent of schools, told Hispanic News. The former academy building is in much better condition than the Angels and Guadalupe buildings, he said, and it won’t need as much renovation as they probably will need soon. Deferred maintenance for the two school buildings “is very large, probably $4 million between the two buildings,” Lillig said.

“The equipment is phenomenal, and it’s more than we can provide at the other schools,” Peters said. “It’s also more cost-effective, and it enables us to provide more education for the students. It’s just a great opportunity that will allow us to expand, and we’ll be able to offer community services right on the campus.”

The move is important for the students, their families and the diocese overall “because we want to help as many students as possible, and we’re not doing it right now because we’re not reaching half of the inner city,” Lillig said.

“We also want to do our due diligence to our donors (to ensure) that we’re helping as many students as we possibly can with the money they give us,” he said.

Mary Delac, principal of Our Lady of the Angels, will be principal of the new school, which hasn’t been named yet. Barb Deane, principal of Holy Cross, will be president of the new school and will remain involved in administration at Holy Cross, along with an assistant principal there. Guadalupe and Angels have about 15 teachers combined, Lillig said. It hasn’t been determined how many faculty members will transfer to the new school.

“It’s a big change for everyone, and I pray that it all comes out as planned,” Sue Scalard, Guadalupe’s principal, told Hispanic News.

“I’m not thinking of it as a closing, but as a move, a relocation,” Delac told Hispanic News. “I’m looking at it as a really awesome opportunity for the kids. My kids are excited over here at Angels about moving to the new building. We’re going to honor our tradition and our history. We’re going to have an alumni room dedicated to the history and traditions and memorabilia of Our Lady of the Angels and Our Lady of Guadalupe, so people know where we come from. The parents have been with us through the good and the bad, so it’s really satisfying to be able to offer their children the same amenities as at other schools.”

A letter detailing the planned changes for the schools was sent throughout the diocese on Jan. 28, and students at the affected schools were given copies of the letter, in some cases in English and Spanish, to take home to their families, Peters said.

Jessica Carmona lives near the Harry S. Truman Sports Complex, and her son attends Guadalupe. She said she learned of the diocese’s plans for the Guadalupe and Angels schools from Hispanic News.

“I’m very shocked,” Carmona said. “I’m upset. I don’t know if I’d move my son with the school. They haven’t told me anything. It puts in perspective now that I have to find another school for my kid, because I don’t want him to just be moved to another location that I don’t know anything about. … (My son) has come really far since I’ve put him into private schools from public schools. … (The new school) is going to be a bigger school, and I want him to be in a small school.”

Asked what she’d like Peters to know, Carmona said: “It’s going to affect a lot of the kids, because what they do here with the child is more of an individual thing, and they treat kids (as individuals) instead of a group or a number, so it’s going to be hard for the kids, I think, to adjust. He should consider what the families want.”

Peters said the diocese had gotten mixed responses from parents and others – “very supportive” at Angels but a mix of opposition and support at Guadalupe – “but anytime you make a change … there’s going to be some special allegiance and emotion attached to that,” he said.

Guadalupe celebrated its 100th anniversary in December, which included a fundraiser for the school organized by its alumni association. Some alumni told Hispanic News they were surprised, saddened and frustrated by the news.

Jerry Adriano is a Guadalupe alumnus. He said he was concerned that the move would hurt the Guadalupe and Angels neighborhoods.

“We need to keep our neighborhoods together instead of splitting them up like they’re doing with the public schools,” Adriano said. “I’m not in favor of them doing that. Our Lady of the Angels and Guadalupe both have children (who live in) Coleman Highlands, as well as the Westside and the Redemptorist (Catholic Church) area. They need to remain, because when you close the schools and close the church, that’s when the neighborhood dies. And I don’t know if this bishop understands that or not.

“It seems to me they’ve managed to maintain the schools over the years,” he said. “Just because somebody bought a piece of property (and) now they want to combine the schools, does that mean they have to destroy what’s been built up (for more than 100) years? I hope that there’s going to be some kind of protest from the neighborhood about this, and I certainly will be there if there is such a thing, because I think it’s wrong. It’s not good for the neighborhood, and it’s not good for the Hispanic community.”

David Valdivia, his seven siblings and their mother attended Guadalupe. He helped with the fundraiser at the 100th anniversary celebration.

“It was about two and a half to almost three years in the planning,” Valdivia said. “It was so exciting. It was great to see that much enthusiasm and that much love for the school. We had well over 300 people attend, and for a grade school that’s almost unheard of. Even for a high school you can’t get that kind of attendance just for a reunion. I have friends that to this day – I’m 58 years old – and we are still friends, and we made friends when we were in grade school.”

Valdivia said he was “shocked and deeply, deeply disappointed” when he heard the news.

“The thing that I think has the alumni association so upset about it is that there was no transparency,” he said. “Nobody was asked their opinion, not even the parents of the children who attend the school. … I understand it’s a business and has to be run as a business … and the diocese is in control … (but) why not keep the schools where they’re at, and use the money that’s been raised?”

Lillig said he sympathized with those who opposed the move to consolidate the schools.

“I’m sure that there is understandably some sadness for a specific building closing,” he said. “We all have memories. My grade school was closed. However, the overall vision is that we’ll be able to help more students, and we’ll be able to give the students we currently have an opportunity to (better) thrive and get an education.”

The Bright Futures Fund’s purchase of the former academy, also for an undisclosed amount, from Lord, Abbett & Co. LLC, an investment-management company based in Jersey City, New Jersey, is expected to close within a month, Lillig said. Negotiations to buy the property started several months ago, after a four-year strategic-planning process that included focus groups of parents, alumni and other interested parties, he said.

The Angels school currently uses its building for parish activities and rents it for other functions, and Lillig said he expected that to continue. With Guadalupe, “we’re doing our due diligence to decide the best use of the building.”

The former academy’s features include a playground; an AstroTurf sports field; rooms for community services, special education and junior high school students; and a secure building, and it’s compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act.