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Diocese rejects plan to save Driscoll High
By Robert Sanchez | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 4/30/2009 5:19 PM | Updated: 4/30/2009 7:49 PM

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Weeks of negotiations and last-minute fundraising simply weren't enough to save Driscoll Catholic High School.

Joliet Diocese officials decided Thursday not to intervene to prevent the 43-year-old Addison high school from closing in June. Driscoll supporters say they have no other plans to try to stop the closure.

"It's officially game over," Gene Faut, who spearheaded the fundraising effort, said late Thursday. "We feel terrible, hurt. But we respect the decision."

The word came after a roughly 90-minute meeting between Driscoll supporters and Bishop J. Peter Sartain.

Thursday's meeting was scheduled after Christian Brothers of the Midwest, which operates Driscoll within the Diocese of Joliet, earlier this week reaffirmed its decision to withdraw its sponsorship because of declining enrollment and dwindling finances.

Sartain said in a statement that he met with the supporters to discuss their proposal to have the Diocese of Joliet assume responsibility for the school.

"After studying their proposals in depth and reviewing the Christian Brothers' rationale for their decision, I came to the same conclusion as the Christian Brothers," Sartain said. "The Diocese is not in a position to assume responsibility for the school, either by itself or by means of a not-for-profit corporation."

The bishop was the supporters' source of final appeal.

"We gave them all the money in the world," said David Schwabe, Driscoll's director of development. "We gave them a great plan (to save the school). And they didn't want to give us a year."

Christian Brothers originally announced plans to close Driscoll on April 2 - one day after tuition rates were to be frozen at $7,000.

A committee representing students, parents, administrators, alumni and the public responded by mounting an ambitious campaign to save the school.

Schwabe said committee members came up with a plan to improve enrollment and fiscal management by increasing fundraising and alumni support.

Then the group raised more than $950,000 over a three-week period.

"We were always told, 'If you come up with money and have a plan, then we would let you guys stay open,'" Schwabe said. "Well, we did that. We did everything we were supposed to do."

But Christian Brothers rejected the alternate operating plan and said the school would need "millions more" than the money that was raised. The religious order cited a 33 percent drop in enrollment in five years, $4 million in investment needs and the weak economy as reasons behind its "painful decision" to close Driscoll.

Schwabe acknowledges that the appeal to the bishop was a long shot.

"I didn't expect them to say 'yes,'" he said. "We knew this was going to be a tough task."

Still, the push to save the high school received a wide range of support from the community. DuPage County Board members this week adopted a resolution supporting efforts to keep the school open.

"Everybody in the Driscoll family and the Addison community and from all over should be very proud of how we all came together," Schwabe said.

A Sunday enrollment open house for Driscoll's 2009-10 school year is expected to be canceled. All the donations that were collected will be returned.

Sartain said in his statement that the Christian Brothers are planning to help students find other Catholic schools and to assist faculty and staff find other teaching positions.

"I offer my support to the Christian Brothers in their transitional efforts," he said. "To all affected by this difficult and sad decision, I offer my prayers."