When St. Scholastica Academy closed its doors in June, there was at least one comforting prospect for the rising seniors.
They could return to the legendary all-girls Catholic school on Chicago’s North Side and make their mark as the last group of girls to earn diplomas from St. Scholastica Academy, 7416 N. Ridge Blvd.
On Wednesday, 25 of the 26 young women started their first day of St. Scholastica’s Senior Academy by praying with the Benedictine Sisters who last spring made the painful decision to close their historic school.
“Although we are all very sad about the closing of SSA as it has been for over 100 years, we look forward to an exciting new beginning,” said Lynne Farmer, the head of the senior academy. “Things weren’t so great at the end of last year. Now we have a new beginning to move ahead in a positive way.”
Last month, the United Neighborhood Organization signed on to lease most of the campus in the Rogers Park neighborhood and open a new charter school. The Chicago-based organization is focused on helping Latino children and families assimilate to American culture.
The senior academy will occupy the third floor of the 1926 building, with the remainder of the floors being occupied by UNO starting Sept. 4.
The abrupt decision in March to close the school infuriated families who received letters months earlier assuring them that “St. Scholastica Academy will not close as long as it continues to be financially viable.”
Sister Patricia Crowley, prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of Chicago at St. Scholastica Monastery, said ledgers in January showed the school was deeper in the red than the sisters had thought, leaving the community no choice but to close the doors.
Sister Judith Zonsius, subprioress of the community, proposed leaving the school open one more year for the sole purpose of letting rising seniors graduate, especially those who had started a two-year track to earn an International Baccalaureate diploma.
“For me, it was a matter of justness and fairness to try to provide that full diploma for those students,” said Zonsius, who thought it was the least the sisters could do for students who felt betrayed.
Crowley said she was persuaded to approve the proposal when the rising seniors approached her the day after the announcement and pleaded with her to reverse the decision.
Acknowledging there were still hard feelings between some students and sisters, Sister Susan Quaintance, an English and theology teacher for the senior academy, said the prayerful beginning to this school year served to balance the bitter end to last spring.
“A critical part of building community is being able to pray together and be together even when we’re not crazy about each other,” she said. “That is the work of building community – letting go of what happened before, holding on to what makes us who we are and starting again.”
Wednesday’s reunion closely resembled an ordinary first day back at school. Students found their lockers, received their books and talked about their summers. They chatted about books they’d read – “Hunger Games” and “50 Shades of Grey” – camps they attended and boys.
Mary Kate Cahill, 17, said she was in shock when the sisters announced they would close her school. A cross country, basketball and softball athlete, she doubted that the academy would fulfill her senior year expectations. Still, she signed on anyway and recruited others to join her.
Since then, the school has reached an agreement to play three sports — basketball, soccer and volleyball – with St. Gregory the Great High School in the Edgewater neighborhood.
“This is where I’ve been, and these are the people I care about,” Cahill said. “It’s giving us a chance to stay together.”
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