Are Black Parents Being Disrespected by
Catholic Schools In the U.S.?
In Chicago, St. Helena of the Cross Elementary School(98% Black), is being systematically dismantled and destroyed by the Chicago Office of Catholic Education.
Chicago Catholic Superintendent Sister Mary Paul McCaughey makes critical decisions about Black children without the input of Black parents. This is not 1850! She is wrong!!! Please call Archbishop Francis George at 312.534.8217 in support of St. Helena parents.
A group of parents is rallying in support of a former Catholic school principal who was fired after a boy was left behind on a field trip this summer at the Shedd Aquarium.
The parents are calling for the reinstatement of Patricia Durkin, who had been a longtime employee at St. Helena of the Cross School.
Durkin started out more than 35 years ago as a teacher at the school at 10115 S. Parnell Ave., and for the last several years she had been serving as principal for no pay, according to St. Helena Parents United for a Greater Cause.
“The one person that really cared about us and our children was Ms. Durkin,” said Nancy Ellis, president of the group.
Durkin was ousted after the Archdiocese of Chicago investigated the July 15 incident in which a 4-year-old attending the school‘s summer camp was left behind at the aquarium. Published reports said his absence wasn’t noticed until his aunt came to pick him up at the school four hours after the trip ended.
Ryan Blackburn, spokesman for the Archdiocese’s Office of Catholic Schools, said that “critical policy and personnel matters necessitated the change.”
According to a letter addressed to Ellis from Sister Mary Paul McCaughey, superintendent of Catholic Schools, Durkin was terminated because “appropriate safeguards were not in place with regard to sign-in/sign-out protocols” and chaperones had not met standards required by Catholic Schools.
Durkin could not be reached for comment.
Many people in the St. Helena community, however, believe the decision was unfair, and some parents have refused to enroll their kids at the school unless Durkin is brought back.
Lonnie Newman is one of them.
“I feel the termination was wrong,” said Newman, who plans to send his two kids to other schools this fall. “Ms. Durkin deserves a second chance. She is like a godmother to us all. Her heart and soul is at St. Helena.”
With enrollment dropping, some people are concerned the school will eventually close, Ellis said.
Mary Lou Piazza, the new co-principal at St. Helena along with Frank Valderrama, said it is too soon to release enrollment figures for the school, which opened Monday.
“It’s always slow right now because our families often wait until after Labor Day to enroll,” she said. “But we’re doing fine. Don’t worry about us, we’re doing OK.”
Last year there were 188 students, predominately African American, enrolled at St. Helena, which offers pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.
The mother of the boy left at the aquarium could not be reached for comment.
But a group of parents recently protested Durkin’s ouster outside of the Archdiocese of Chicago headquarters and is calling on Cardinal Francis George to intervene.
Ellis said Catholic Schools leaders “don’t really care about the black community.”
“The parents are not going to stand for it,” she said.
Blackburn said the archdiocese is fully committed to the future of St. Helena.
He added: “There are some areas, specifically related to personnel and policy, that do not rest in the hands of the families. That is more a role for the school leadership and the Office of Catholic Schools to be dealing with.
“Every decision that we make, though, is done with respect to the parent community, as well as what is in the best and most appropriate interest of the children and the school.”