September 18, 2014

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North Olmsted’s St. Richard School to close

NORTH OLMSTED — St. Richard School, a fixture in the community since 1950, will be closing its doors to children from grades kindergarten through eight at the end of this academic year.

“It’s like the perfect storm,” said the Rev. Charles Stollenwerk, pastor of St. Richard Parish.

North Olmsted is changing, enrollment is down and finances have become an insurmountable problem, he said Friday.

“The city is no longer a destination. People are moving to other cities — Avon, North Ridgeville, south — and the children aren’t here. We have a 1920s birth rate,” Stollenwerk said.

When he came to the parish in 1991, there were more than 500 students enrolled in the Catholic school and that has dropped to 240, he added.

“Really, it’s what you’re seeing all over. It’s change,” he said. “The old model of education is no longer viable. Teachers have to be paid.”

There are fewer than 20 teachers at St. Richard now.

The Catholic diocese has helped, “but you have to pay back eventually, and they say a decision has to be made,” he said.

Officials have tried to keep tuition under $3,000, Stollenwerk said. Currently, a parishioner pays $2,950 for full time, while nonparishioners pay $3,950.

“It’s economics. People are moving in from Cleveland. It is a reality. There aren’t big families anymore and it’s expensive to live in the suburbs” so children are going to public schools, he said.

St. Richard families will be helped to try to find other schools in other parishes. St. Brendan Parish on the city’s east side still operates a Catholic elementary school.

“It’s hard on people,” Stollenwerk said of informing staff, students and parents of the decision. “When something’s been around forever, and is no longer, it’s a shock. It affects us all. Change is part of all of our lives, but the one constant is faith and God himself. We just have to be able to see it.”

Donna and Mike Kichak, whose son, Robert, graduated from St. Richard seven years ago, said they were very surprised and disappointed.

“I feel it’s the end of an era,” Donna said. “It hurts. I know some families who struggled to keep their kids there.”

Mike said they felt comfortable when Robert was at St. Richard and that “the setting enhanced and reaffirmed the values we were teaching at home.”

“It warms my heart to this day that Robert, at 21, when he hears a siren or a Life Flight helicopter, still does the sign of the cross — says a prayer — and that came from St. Richard. It’s a reaffirmation,” Donna said.

Religion classes for public school students will continue to use the school classrooms, and “we’ll look to the future for other uses,” Stollenwerk said of the school.

A program to provide free tuition for a quarter of the year for new students resulted in only about 11 new students and was not enough to stem the tide, according to Stollenwerk.

The Cleveland Catholic Charities housing project behind the school, which is building senior apartments, has nothing to do with the school but will be helpful to seniors, he said.

Contact Debbie Klinec at 329-7155 or ctnews@chroniclet.com.