The history of Catholic Education in Rock Island (population 39.684) begins
with the missionary voyages of Fr. John George Alleman, O.P., a priest who traveled throughout that area of the Mississippi
River Valley, establishing congregations and schools. The current Catholic High School in Rock Island, named in his honor,
was established in 1949. In the early 1840's Fr. Alleman established a German speaking congregation at Rock Island, called
St. Mary's. More than a century before Polka Masses, the parish's first Masses were said at the Beierlein's Cooper
Shop, which manufactured beer barrels for Rock Island's burgeoning brewery industry. Mr. Beierlein was a devout
Lutheran, but cleared his warehouse for Mass each Sunday until a Church building was arranged. The
first division was made in the congregation in 1874, when a parish for the English speaking members was established, called
The Parish & School Begin
speaking had been served with their own Mass beginning in 1867; this formed the core of the new St. Joseph Parish. The school
seems to have begun by 1877. The first school building, including grade and high schools, was built about 1885. The
founding pastor, Fr. Rolls, was succeeded by the pastor who was known for building up the parish and the school in the early
years, Very Rev. Thomas Mackin. Fr. Mackin, born in Ireland, had been educated for a term at Notre Dame, and then completed
his education at Georgetown University. According to "The Catholic History of the Tri-Cities" (c. 1905), Fr. Mackin "acquired
his classical training, graduating in 1871 at the head of his class. His diploma was conferred upon him by Gen. William Tecumseh
Sherman." The university later conferred upon him the degree of "Master of Arts" and he completed his studies for priesthood
at St. Mary's Seminary, Baltimore. With his classical education, he was able to guide the establishment of a fine school with
high standards. A man of culture, Fr. Mackin was also a man of fun. The Rock Island Argus, March 18, 1878, reports
the St. Patrick's Day celebrations, centered around St. Joseph's, included a parade, which crossed the Mississippi River between
Illinois and Iowa, an "eloquent address" by Fr. Mackin, a play, "presented by the Emerald Dramatic Society," and a "Grand
Ball," attended by 80 couples. Over the decades, the St. Patrick's Day celebration included the participation
of many High School students, and the day was grandly celebrated throughout the school. Performances such as concerts,
plays, and minstrel shows were presented by the students in celebration of St. Patrick.
The Very Reverend Dean Thomas Mackin remained pastor and guided the parish and
school until his death in 1905. The Argus eulogized that "he was a man whose range of worldly knowledge was wide to
an extraordinary degree... he had a statewide reputation as an orator... all admired him for his intellectual
qualities, respected him for his religious zeal and loved him for his kindly and sympathetic nature." He was buried
at Leland, Illinois.
The presence of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (B.V.M.
Sisters) whose Motherhouse was in Dubuque, Iowa, was an established fact already in 1877. The B.V.M. sisters continued to
teach at the high school until it closed in 1949. It should be noted that in 1869 two B.V.M. Sisters had come to Rock Island
to establish a school for the English speaking, but they returned to Dubuque because of a shortage of sisters.
By 1899 the school had 300 students. The school endeavored to form students
in academics, certainly, but also through human and spiritual formation. At a Confirmation ceremony, November 4, 1906,
the "boys all took the total abstinence pledge to abstain from the use of intoxicants until they reach the age of 21."
This was a common practice in Irish parishes of the time. In a parish census of 1910, 150 boys and 160 girls were counted
as attending the school. Although boys and girls shared the same school buildings, their instruction was carried out
in separate classrooms, in accord with the widespread practice of the time. The School Building which many people today
would remember as the "old school." was built in 1913. In 1920 a mansion was purchased and convered into a convent,
with room for a roller skating rink for the students in the basement, in 1957 this mansion was sold to the Tri City Jewish
Center for use as a synagogue, and it remains a historically significant building today. In 1926, total enrollment was
571 students, and in 1948, there were 689 pupils enrolled. Separate enrollments of the High School and Grade School
are not listed, but the schools were conducted in separate buildings. The class of '22 picture shows 21 of the graduates,
that of 1924 shows 17 of the graduates, and that of '47 shows, coincidentally, 47 graduates. It is unknown whether each
graduate, every year, sat for a formal portrait in order to appear in the class picture.
St. Joseph High School is notable for another reason, for being one of the few buildings
in Illinois to have ever suffered earthquake damage. According to Illinois
"Earthquake History" http://neic.usgs.gov/neis/states/illinois/illinois_history.html
The quake of November 12, 1934 at 2:45 p.m. caused some damage. According to
the website, the data on the quake was "4.0M Intensity VI" centered "Near Rock Island, Illinois ( 41.5N 90.5W )" The site
continues: "In Rock Island and Moline, Ill., and Davenport, Iowa, bricks fell from a few chimneys and pendulum clocks stopped.
In Rock Island, a stucco cornice was dislodged from St. Joseph's School; some loose plaster was shaken from ceilings in the
men's dormitory at Augustana College, and loose bricks were shaken from a few buildings."
Consolidated to Form Alleman
High School continued until 1949, when its student population was combined with that of St. Mary's High School, Moline, to
form the new Alleman Catholic High School, which began classes in the Fall of 1949 at its Rock Island Campus. When the school
began, there was some worry that there would be too much tension between those coming from St. Mary's and those attending
from St. Joseph's, since the schools had been strong rivals. There was, indeed, some friction, but new friendships were formed,
old rivalries were buried, and the students united under the green and white of the Alleman Pioneers so that new traditions
were begun, many of which continue until today.
Final Years of Grade School & Parish
Joseph's Grade School continued at the site until 1974, when it combined with St. Pius and Sacred Heart Schools, Rock Island,
and St. Ambrose School, Milan, to form the new consolidated Jordan Grade School, named for Monsignor Thomas Jordan, longtime
pastor in Rock Island. The school was used for the Junior High of the consolidated school. The noise of students continued
to be heard in this same building until the late 1980's, when the school property was sold to Rock Island County for the building
of a new jail. The parish itself was closed in June, 2005, when the 130 year old church building was declared structurally
unsound and irreparable.
In his remarks at the
closing Mass, Rev. Msgr. Ambrose Cunningham, himself an alumnus of St. Joseph's High School, had this to say:
"It is impossible for persons who are under 55 years of age to have known a wise and saintly
pastor of St. Joseph's Church by the name of Msgr. Patrick Durkin. I am among many hundreds of Sacred Heart parishioners who,
for several decades, were cordially welcomed as students of St. Joseph's High School by Msgr. Durkin and the BVM Sisters who
were our teachers.
"Our high school years were filled with countless treasured memories thanks to
the equally countless sacrifices by St. Joseph's Parish to make our high school education possible..."
Msgr. Cunningham continued:
"In the meantime, all of us can pray often and fervently that the agony of "letting go" will become less and less painful
for the members of St. Joseph Parish. We can pray especially for the quality of courage and patience and endurance that was
required of those valiant pioneers of the 1800s who established settlements in our neighborhood that were identified as "Farnamsville"
and "Stephenson" before becoming known as the city of Rock Island in the state of Illinois.
"These pioneers had left comfortable homes and relatives and friends in Europe and in the original
colonies of our nation in order to explore and settle in the western regions of our territory. These pioneers knew from this
experience the agonizing pain of "letting go."
these pioneers learned lessons of how to let go from the rivers that they navigated -- rivers such as the Rock River that
originates in the state of Wisconsin and ever so majestically flows throughout the northern regions of the state of Illinois
until it reaches the western tip of Big Island where it lets go of its identify and becomes one and the same with the Mississippi
River. This confluence of rivers may help to understand the meaning and the significance of a merger and the importance of
letting go." (From: The Catholic Post, Peoria, Illinois, June 19, 2005)
St. Joseph High School Quick Facts
- School opened:
- New School Building Opened: 1885
- High School Closed:
- Consolidated to: Alleman Catholic, Rock Island
- Grade School Closed:
- Consolidated to: Jordan Grade School, Rock Island
- School Buildings demolished: Late 1980's
- School Colors:
Purple and Gold
- School Fight Song: unavailable
The purple and gold of St. Joseph's High School was well known on the athletic
fields of competition. The boys were well known for many basketball and football triumphs.
1917 featured a Champion Senior Boys Football Squad.
One notable loss of St. Joseph's High School football took place in
East Moline. The East Moline High School "Hilltoppers" dedicated their new athletic field, Soule Bowl, which continues in
use today, on October 17, 1936, with a 7-6 loss to Kewanee. East Moline won its first game at the new stadium on October 24,
1936 against St. Joseph High School, triumphing 39-0.
Many thanks to Dr. Clement Cunningham, M.D., who provided some information for this
history, as well as the St. Joseph Centennial History, from which much of the information was gleaned.