CHICAGO | The final hurdle to keep the 107-year-old St. Florian Catholic School open for the 2015-2016 school year was cleared Tuesday night.
As part of a fundraising effort, Santa Claus had camped out on the roof of the school at 13110 S. Baltimore Ave. from Dec. 7 until Dec. 17, when a $25,000 pledge from the Big Shoulders Fund brought the total donation amount to $55,000.
"Big Shoulders is a Catholic Charities group that does a lot of giving to Catholic organizations to help them in need," said Dawn Klein-Pilota, a member of the St. Florian School Board.
She said that $60,000 was needed to make up for a deficit for the 2015-2016 school year and that even with that $25,000 pledge, the school found itself about $5,000 short.
That changed when Willie Wilson, a Chicago mayoral hopeful, presented the school with a personal donation of $5,000 during a holiday celebration Tuesday at the school.
"If I can make a difference in helping them reach their goal to keep the school open, I'm going to do that tonight," Wilson said.
He said he found out about the school's financial situation while watching television and seeing Santa on the St. Florian roof. Wilson said he is a supporter of education who regularly contributes to churches and organizations.
Klein-Pilota said this marked the second year the school had to embark on a fundraising effort to keep the school alive, but that this year it was necessary "to think outside of the box."
St. Florian was slated for closure by the archdiocese in January. Diocesan officials agreed to allow the school to remain open under the condition it remains financially stable.
Klein-Pilota said different fundraisers were done last year to raise money in Hegewisch and the surrounding areas.
"Hegewisch itself has been struggling for a while because of the steel mill closings and we've had a lot of businesses come and go," Klein-Pilota said.
She said the media coverage of Santa on the roof drew donations from as far away as California, Washington, Florida, South Carolina, Oklahoma and New Jersey.
She said a campaign to build enrollment will kick off in January so that similar fundraising efforts are not necessary each year.
Santa climbed back on the rooftop one last time Tuesday night to lead a Christmas carol singalong.