LEMONT – Staff, students and alumnae said their official goodbyes to Mount Assisi Academy during a closing ceremony on Sunday.
The all-girls Catholic school run by School Sisters of St. Francis of Christ the King was founded in 1951, with the building constructed in 1954.
In January, the school announced it would be closing, citing low enrollment, an increasing budget deficit and the small number of Franciscan Sisters available to serve the school.
Though school administrators had mentioned possibly keeping the school open one more year for the senior class, Provincial Superior Sister Therese Ann Quigney said it was determined that they would not be able to do so.
Students and alumnae were immediately upset by the decision to close.
A crowd attended a candlelight vigil on a bitterly cold February night, asking the Franciscan Sisters to work with them on a solution that would keep the school open.
Quigney compares the reaction to going through the stages of grief and said that the girls move through it at different rates.
"Some of the girls are ready to move on," she said. "Some are still struggling with, 'How did they do that?'"
Mount Assisi sophomore Katie O'Leary was one of the organizers of the vigil and will be attending Queen of Peace School next year.
"I can't say that [my feelings have] changed much," she said. "I still feel like I'm being ripped away from my home."
She said she knows there is nothing she can do about the closing but still thinks she was able to accomplish something by trying to keep the school open.
"I feel like it gives us some closure, knowing that we didn't go without a fight," she said.
Mount Assisi Principal Sister Mary Francis Werner said students spent the last couple of weeks celebrating and reflecting on their time at the school.
"It has really been fabulous in the sense that the girls have been deeply appreciative of what they've had at Mount Assisi," she said. "We continue to point out to them that they are not the same girls that came in the front door."
She said the school has also been working with the students on finding a new school for next year.
Many, like O'Leary, are choosing to go to another all-girls Catholic school, she said.
Though they are in the process of moving forward, the consensus is the experience at Mount Assisi cannot be replicated. Quigney said the Franciscan Sisters bring a simplicity and personal care that you do not find everywhere.
"What we really provided for the young ladies was a sense of home where they grew into confident women," she said.
O'Leary said she would not be able to find another campus as beautiful.
"The grotto was unbelievable," she said. "You will never be able to have those nice walks."
Werner looked forward to the closing ceremony.
"I would hope that it's going to be a grand celebration of the tremendous dedication of the sisters and faculty over the years," she said.
Quigney said the Franciscan Sisters do not have a definite plan of what they will do with the building. It is part of a larger campus that includes the Alvernia Manor retirement home.
She said she would still like to reach out to young women, though not in the same way the school did.
"There will never be another Mount Assisi," she said. "That was unique to us. But will [the students] find places they can grow and become unique women? I certainly hope so."
History of Mount Assisi Academy
1940’s School Sisters of St. Francis of Christ the King (Lemont Franciscans) plan for an all-girls high school to be built on their hill just east of Lemont.
1951 Classes began in the convent building for young women who hoped to later become Sisters.
May 1954 Construction begins on the building that would become Mount Assisi Academy.
Sept. 1955 Students begin to use the new building.
June 1956 The school is dedicated by Samuel Cardinal Stritch and accredited by the state. Enrollment steadily increases.
1961 The first non-Sister (lay) faculty member begins teaching at Mount Assisi.
1990s The school was separately incorporated from the Sisters, and a two-tiered structure was established, with the highest tier being the Sisters’ Council.
2001 School’s enrollment begins to decrease.
2011 School starts a fundraising campaign to try to stay open.
Jan. 2014 Mount Assisi Academy announces it will close at the end of the school year.
Source: Mount Assisi Academy