SHEBOYGAN — Approximately 250 parents, parish members and students attended a recent archdiocese-sponsored listening session at St. Dominic Parish to address concerns and learn the next phase of a proposed reconfiguration of the schools serving the north side of this community.

The proposed closing of St. Dominic and Holy Family schools in Sheboygan as of fall 2012, and the formation of a new grade school serving the north side of Sheboygan and housed on the current Holy Family campus, appeared to be a done deal last spring.

A March 1 letter sent to Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki and Kathleen Cepelka, superintendent of schools for the archdiocese, and signed by then-St. Dominic pastor, Fr. John Radetski, as well as Fr. James Connell, pastor of Holy Name of Jesus and St. Clement parishes, the two churches affiliated with Holy Family School, recommended the change for financial and enrollment concerns as well as a desire to enrich the Catholic faith community in the area.

The ensuing months since that letter became public have surfaced bitter feelings of many parishioners and families, particularly in the St. Dominic faith community.

“We recognize the process has not been positive,” said Patrick Lofton, associate superintendent, Archdiocese of Milwaukee, and one of the participants in the listening session.

So much so, that in an effort to heal and to address the situation in a logical, controlled fashion, the plans have been essentially put on hold. While a merger of some sort will definitely take place, a new course of action has been set.

The listening session led by Lofton, as well as Sister of St. Agnes Deborah Golias, a professor of education at Marian University, outlined a new plan to assess the state of affairs and to give a voice to the people attending.

In the next few months, according to Sr. Deborah and Lofton, committees will evaluate the two institutions in terms of governance, education, finance, facilities and communications.

“Tonight is the tip of the iceberg,” Lofton said.

After these committees send their report to a core committee, the results and recommendations will be forwarded to the archdiocese, where the decision will be made about the future of the two schools.

Lofton reiterated that St. Dominic has not been officially closed. He said that Archbishop Listecki has supported the merger of the two schools, and people took that to mean that the St. Dominic campus would be closed.

“That is not the correct premise that we’re operating from,” Lofton said.

Sr. Deborah agreed.

“The conversation has changed,” she said. “The one thing we don’t want is that this decision will be capricious. It will be data-driven and it will cause these committees to look at every angle.

“We want to recreate the emotion to be a passion for Catholic schools no matter what the recommendations are. We want to re-channel the emotions,” she said, admitting there was a lot of hurt in this decision. “It’s a difficult thing to do, but my commitment is that Catholic education, even though it may be in an evolving form, is an option for parents to choose.”

Lofton agreed.

“We don’t know the outcome of this. The committees will be looking at this. But there will be a merger and there will be a new Catholic school in the reality that is planned for fall 2012. The recommendation will be sent to Archbishop Listecki by April.”

Whether that recommendation involves a configuration where all activities take place on the Holy Family campus, or the services are divided between the two campuses remains to be seen.

Participants in the listening session expressed many emotions, including anger, distrust, sadness and a hope for healing of feelings. Esmeralda Reyes, a seventh grade St. Dominic student, expressed concern for future class sizes if the two schools should merge, as well as a very basic emotion.

“People love this school,” she said.

Perhaps the most heartfelt and profound statement came from St. Dominic middle school teacher, Sarah Annelin, who expressed the confusion, hurt and disappointment that came from the proposed merger.

“This has been my ministry. I expected more from my Catholic community,” she said of the confusion and upheaval brought on by last spring’s events. Her comments were made amid thunderous applause and a standing ovation.

There was also a hope expressed that Catholic education in Sheboygan could go beyond the grade school level.

“My hope is that in the next five, 10, 20 years we could encompass everyone from 3K through high school,” said Barb Richter.

Healing needs to take place and, according to Sr. Deborah, that will hopefully begin to happen with the new emphasis of study by the committees.

“It’s a change of conversation now,” she said. “It’s positive, it’s grassroots, and it’s productive.”