Driscoll Catholic High closing after 43 years
Just one day after announcing a tuition freeze, Driscoll Catholic High School administrators told students and their parents Thursday the Addison school will close at the end of this academic year.
Officials blamed the closing on drooping enrollment, loss of revenue and the economy.
"Our students' families are losing their jobs left and right," Driscoll President Tom Geraghty said. "It then becomes hard to pay the yearly tuition bill."
Students learned of the closing during a lunchtime assembly. Parents received an e-mail around the same time from the Christian Brothers of the Midwest District, which oversees Driscoll's administration for the Diocese of Joliet.
Students said they were stunned and the announcement spurred tears, urgent text messages to parents and calls to save the school.
Junior Alyssa Maucieri, a member of the school's dance team that traveled to the state championships last month, said she and her classmates are heartbroken.
"Everybody was just crying so hard," Maucieri said. "The first reaction from everybody was, 'How can we save the school?' "
In the past five years, Driscoll has seen enrollment decline from 465 to 311 students, said Brother Francis Carr, the provincial of the Christian Brothers. Carr said the school has been operating with budget deficits during the same time, and more were projected for the 2009-10 school year. Tuition at Driscoll is about $7,000 a year, he said.
"With a smaller number of students coming in, the possibility of making those (deficits) up is pretty impossible," Carr said.
The closing of the 43-year-old school is a major blow to its sports squads. Its football team won seven straight state titles through 2007, its girls basketball team took its first Class 2A state title in March, and its dance team placed third in state last month.
"We were all looking forward to dance next year and we just won the basketball championship, and now it all feels pointless because the school won't even be here," Maucieri said.
Girls basketball coach Steve McCuiston, whose adult children are alumni, said he was surprised despite rumblings in the past year among the Driscoll community that the school might close.
"I'm in complete shock, devastated and saddened for the girls," he said. "We never thought the school was going to close."
As students and parents decide where they will enroll next year, diocese officials are asking other Catholic high schools under its jurisdiction to give priority enrollment and employment to Driscoll students and employees, Carr said. The two closest Catholic high schools are Montini in Lombard and Immaculate Conception in Elmhurst, with 665 and 225 students enrolled, respectively, according to the diocese.
Steve Gilliam, whose son Stephen is a Driscoll sophomore, said the news is too fresh to know exactly what's in store for next year.
"He's sort of devastated, which is to be expected," Gilliam said. "I can't say it was a complete shock because we had a hunch something like this might be coming. Right now I'm not sure what he's going to do. We've got to take a look at all the options and see what's best for him."
As parents sort out details of the closing and determine where their children will attend school next year, they can meet with representatives of the Christian Brothers and Diocese of Joliet at 5:30 p.m. today at the school.
Addison village officials said they're also upset to see Driscoll close and are unsure what will become of the school property at 555 N. Lombard Road.
"It's like losing part of your family," Village President Larry Hartwig said. "It's been a great institution in the community since the 1960s, and I know a lot of graduates from there who will be sad to see their alma mater go."
The Lasallian school, which follows in the teaching tradition of St. John the Baptist de La Salle, opened in 1966 with a class of 134 students. Currently, its students score an average composite ACT score of 23.1 and are required to perform 12 hours of community service each year. Since 1990, Driscoll has won nearly two dozen athletic conference championships, 15 regional or sectional championships, and nine state titles.
The closing also upset many alumni. Chris Galloway, a 1995 graduate, visited Driscoll last November for its Hall of Fame induction and said he only heard talk of expanding and improving the school's facilities.
"It really is a shame that my high school, the place that taught me so many values and ideals and which really prepared me for the real world, will no longer exist," he said. "It is a very sad day for me and for all of the Driscoll alumni and faithful."
Hartwig said Driscoll's property is zoned for residential use and, if sold, must be used for that purpose - which is unlikely during this recession.
"With the housing market right now, it's hard to imagine someone buying that and building houses, so I guess we'll just have to wait and see."
• Daily Herald staff writers Joshua Welge and Kevin Schmit contributed to this report.