Chicago St. Mel High School "Knights"

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CLOSED HSs CHICAGO
 
                                 The History of Chicago St. Mel High School
 
Chicago (population 2.8 million) is in northeastern Illinois in eastern Cook County. Lake Michigan, along with the Chicago and Des Plaines Rivers are the main waterways in the city. Interstates 55, 57, 90, & 94 will all lead you to the "Windy City." From what started as a small village in the early 1800’s along the banks of Lake Michigan, Chicago has grown to the nation's third largest city and one of the most famous places in the world, as the result of an ethnically diverse community that adopted the city.
 
St. Mel High School was an all-boys' insitution during its lifetime, served by the Christian Brothers. According to Brother Tom Hetland, who serves as Alumni Director for the St. Mel Alumni Association, "It began in 1917 at One North Kildare in Chicago and remained an all-boys school at that site until 1969 (I believe). At that time the boys merged with the girls and all created Providence-St. Mel in the Providence HS building at Central Park and Jackson. When Providence-St. Mel began as a merged school both the Christian Brothers and the Sisters of Providence were still actively involved." 
 
Br. Tom's statement is accurate and we should add that in the Chicago Archdiocese records that the school opened with a three-year commercial course as well as a four-year college course in 1917, in addition to prep classes for junior high students. Founder and St. Mel pastor Rev. Patrick J. McDonnell saw a need for the school, which then-Archbishop George Mundelein helped him realize.
 
Three hundred boys and 10 Christian Brothers were present when the school first began operation at St. Mel's Parish. The first graduates received their diplomas in 1921 with a class of 33 being honored.
 
In 1924, the commercial and junior high classes were dropped. St. Mel continued to grow in the 1940's to the degree that it expanded the size of the parish grade school in 1942 and housed freshmen and sophomores in one building (also known as the West Building).
 
The school reached a high enrollment mark of 1,593 in the fall of 1958, but some of the problems that plagued sister school Providence High School also were concerns at St. Mel. Some of the reasons to closed the all-boys' school were lower enrollment, continuing financial woes, inadequate facilities, and low morale among students and faculty alike.  
 
We are still in need of finding out whether or not the building that housed St. Mel High School still stands today and what use it may serve the community. Steven Sawula (Class of 1964) believes that one of the campus buildings at St. Mel was razed and the property turned into a parking lot. The other building may well be in use as an educational facility of some sort today. 
 
Bob Langworthy tells us the "East Building" that once served as part of the St. Mel campus is now a parking lot. The "West Building" serves as an apartment complex. Bob also tells us the following information about Saint Mel, the person:
 
"Saint Mel was one of two brothers (both saints, what a family!) who were nephews of Saint Patrick. Folklore has it that one of them, which one is unknown, was living with an aunt, and St. Pat advised him to move out, as it might look bad to their neighbors."
 
FACTS ABOUT CHICAGO ST. MEL HIGH SCHOOL
 
Year opened:                  1917
Year closed:                   1969
Now part of:                    Providence-St. Mel High School
School Colors:                Purple and Gold
School Nickname:           "Knights"
School Song:                  St. Mel School Song
                                     (courtesy of Br. Tom Hetland)
                                
                                 St. Mel Knights are marching to victory today
                                 Hand clasping hand for a win, we will pray
                                 Pledging allegiance to God and our flag
                                 St. Mel Knights will conquer and never lag.                 
 
Another version of the St. Mel school song was submitted by Ann Jasper (daughter of alumnus John Corcoran):
 
Come on, let's yell
For Old St. Mel,
For Old St. Mel,
The school we love.
A yell will tell
The team that we
Are fighting out there
Along beside them.
Give three cheers,
A rah-rah-rah!
A sis-boom-bah!
To spur them on their way today
To make another VICTORY
For Old St. Mel!

ACTIVITIES

 

St. Mel students could complete in football, basketball, tennis, and fencing, according to information received from the IHSA website (www.ihsa.org). However, George Fornero's 1990 dissertation about Chicago Catholic high schools between 1955-1980 states the school also had wrestling, swimming, track, and boxing. The school also had its own ROTC (Reserve Officers' Training Corps) unit in 1935, making them the only Catholic high school in the city to have this activity. A drum & bugle corps (see photo at bottom of page), choir, glee club, drama, and debating were also offered as activities for Knight students.  

St. Mel Coach John (Paddy) Driscoll
paddydriscoll.jpg
courtesy of Bill Meyer

FOOTBALL

 

The Knights were members of the Chicago Catholic League starting in 1918 and later joined the Chicagoland Prep Conference in 1961. They were a competitive bunch and turned out a number of players that went onto play professionally, such as Bernie Leahy, Tom Bettis, Tom Keating, and Walt Barnes. St. Mel's football program was once headed by pro football Hall of Famer Paddy Driscoll, who had once played and/or coached with the Bears and then-Chicago Cardinals.

 

Some of the better records posted by St. Mel teams are posted below (courtesy of Tom Sikorski):

 

1942  6-2  2nd Chicago Catholic League North Division Coach Emmett Murphy

1942 Homecoming Program
stmelshomecomingprogramdav.jpg
courtesy of Ann (Corcoran) Jasper, daughter of alum John Corcoran

1943 Knight football roster
stmel1943footballrosterdav.jpg
Courtesy of Ann (Corcoran) Jasper, daughter of alum John Corcoran (#28 on roster)

St. Mel versus DeLaSalle in 1943
stmelfootballactiondav.jpg
Courtesy of Ann (Corcoran) Jasper, daughter of alum John Corcoran

1945  5-3

1956  5-3

1957  4-4-1

1959  6-2

1961  5-3 Moved to the Chicagoland Prep Conference.  Coach John Hosinski

1962  7-2                                                                Coach John Hosinski

1963  4-4-1                                                               Coach Warren Jones

1964  5-4 

 

The last Knight team took the field in 1966, coached by Bob McAlpin, losing its last game 20-0 to Little Flower.

BASKETBALL

 

As early as 1925, the Knights gained recognition for their school as they won the National Catholic Invitational Basketball Tournament in Chicago against a field of parochial schools nationwide at Loyola University, and later picked up a second place in 1932 when Chicago St. Patrick beat St. Mel in the title game, 22-20.

 

Prior to 1925, the Knights were involved in one of the lowest scoring games in IHSA history as it edged Chicago St. Rita on February 2nd, 1921 by a score of 4-3. St. Mel also won four heavyweight titles in Chicago Catholic League play in addition to four lightweight championships thru 1939, according to research done by Illinois prep sports historian Robert Pruter. Coaches of these teams are unknown at this time.

 

1925-26   Chicago Catholic League Lightweight Champions

St. Mel 1925 Championship Medal - Thomas J. Kearns
chicagostmelchampbball1925medaldav.jpg
Submitted by Karen J. (Kearns) Richman

1925-26 Chgo Catholic League Lightweight Champs
chicagostmellghtwgtchamps1926dav.jpg
Courtesy of Karen J. (Kearns) Richman (Right Click on Photo for Enlarged Version)

St. Mel Basketball / 1926-27
chicagostmelbasketballmid1920sdav.jpg
Submitted by Karen J. (Kearns) Richman (Right Click on Photo for Enlarged Version)

1928-29   Chicago Catholic League Heavyweight Champions

1930-31   Chicago Catholic League Heavyweight Champions

1931-32   Chicago Catholic League Heavyweight Champions

1933-34   Chicago Catholic League Lightweight Champions

1934-35   Chicago Catholic League Heavyweight Champions

1935-36   Chicago Catholic League Lightweight Champions

1936-37   Chicago Catholic League Lightweight Champions

 

1953-54   Chicago Catholic League & City Basketball Champions!!

 

Memories 

    

From John Moeller (Class of 1962):

 

"Back in the late '50s and early '60s, I and my two older brothers, Richard and Daniel, attended St. Mel's grade school and high school. We lived in a couple of apartments in the neighborhood and were never more than two blocks from the school. For a few years, we lived in an apartment at 4337 W. Washington Blvd., or about 100 to 200 yards from the school.  
 
I mention this because all three of us were into basketball and were gym rats of the highest order. In fact, the Christian Brothers gave us a key to the gym so that we could use it on the weekends...with a rule being that we had to call them to let them know a game was on so that they could join us. During these years, we often played with former St. Mel players, with some being from the 1954 team that won the City High School Basketball Championship.  
 
The Chicago Tribune Archives has an article written by Charles Bartlett. I believe the game was played on 3/24/54 as the article appeared in the paper on 3/25. 
 
An abstract from this article says: "The St. Mel Knights won the City High School Basketball Championship by whipping the famed DuSable Panthers 83-74, before a wildly cheering crowd of 15,363.''
 
This game, I believe, was the single biggest sports moment in the history of St. Mel High School. THE CITY CHAMPIONSHIP!!"

 

TENNIS

 

One individual that represented the school was a singles' champion at the University of Chicago Interscholastic Tournament, which held from time to time between 1895 and the early 1930's. According to an article written by Robert Pruter from the IHSA website, Emmett Pare from St. Mel won the 1925 singles title at this tournament, and went on to win the 1929 national clay court singles' championship. Pare and his teammates banded together to win the 1925 Chicago Catholic League team championship,

 

FENCING

 

As a sport that did not get much attention, St. Mel did offer it in the 1960's, as reported on the IHSA website. We are looking to find out more about this sport at St. Mel and how it competed against other schools. 

 

SWIMMING

 

We are aware that the Knights did have swimming during the early days of its existence. St. Mel was a member of the Chicago Catholic League natatorium scene and came away with back-to-back conference titles.

 

1928   Chicago Catholic League Champions

1929   Chicago Catholic League Champions

FAMOUS ALUMNI
 
Bernie Leahy -- After his prep days at St. Mel and collegiately at Notre Dame, Leahy was a halfback for the Chicago Bears during the 1932 season in which they won the NFL championship.
 
Tom Bettis -- This linebacker starred at Purdue, then went on to an nine-year career in the National Football League with Green Bay, Pittsburgh, and the hometown Bears from 1955-63. Bettis was a member of three teams that reached the NFL championship game in three of his last four seasons (1960, 1961, & 1963), then was interim head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs during the 1977 season.
 
Tom Keating -- Following St. Mel and Michigan, the big defensive tackle starred for Buffalo, Oakland, Pittsburgh, and Kansas City between 1964-75, and played on three American Football League championship teams (1964, 1965, & 1967).
 
Walt Barnes -- Continuing in the footsteps of Bettis & Keating as a defensive player, Barnes' NFL career marked with stops at Washington and Denver from 1966-71 following All-American status at Nebraska in 1965.
 
Lee Loughnane -- (Class of 1964) Lee was a member of the St. Mel concert band as a trumpet player. He would become a member of the famous rock musical group "Chicago."
 
John Kucan -- (Class of 1964) The captain of the varsity soccer team, who went on to become a renowned plastic surgeon in Springfield, Illinois.
 
Frank Quilici -- (Class of 1956) Became a major league baseball player starting in the 1965 World Series at second base for the Minnesota Twins. Became manager of the Twins in 1972, a position he held until 1975. For more information check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Quilici.
 
MEMORIES & FACTS
 
From Paul Guerino (Class of 1960):
 
"Cardinal George's father graduated from St. Mel in 1923 I believe. He was the highest ranking engineer in the Chicago Public Schools and was in charge of the Chicago Teachers College North Campus when it opened in 1965. I was a student there in the 1960s and we developed a friendship because I was a St. Mel graduate there in 1960."
 
From Art Fox (class of 1948):
 
"We were the last class with R.O.T.C., won Federal Inspection for this district, which was held downtown Chicago reviewed by Gen. Wainwright, who surrendered Corrigidor in WWII. We had most sports, boxing, rifle, bowling, football, varsity basketball and intramural basketball at lunch period. Our basketball team was coached by Johnny Dee, who went on to coach Notre Dame basketball.
 
"The high school was razed and now occupies a cleaning store (yr. 2003). The former Catholic Church, across the street, where we held graduation, is now a Baptist Church.
 
"When attending Mels, I resided next to elevated directly behind Wrigley Field centerfield scoreboard, took close to 1 hour travelling on streetcars and buses. "
   
From John Brezina (class of 1967): "Hi there, I graduated St. Mel in '67.
 
"As far as I am concerned, the reason it closed was not low morale, rather the fact that the MLK riots in '68 started around Pulaski and Madison and the entire neighborhood was essentially burnt to the ground. The area is still like Beirut, or Warsaw after WWII, vacant lots and brickyards.
 
"I went to see the Chihuly exhibit at the Garfield Park conservatory with my daughter and decided to show her where I grew up. We went by Kildare and Madison. The east building is long since gone, I went there with Brother Gregory when the Christian Brothers were pulling out and scavenged stuff left after the auction. 
 
"The west building was being used by the Chicago Board of Education for some sort of early childhood development center. There was a sign on the door that said 'Drug and weapon free zone, no firearms or drugs allowed within 500 feet.' The brothers are rolling over in their graves."

From Bill Meyer (class of 1956):

"Really enjoyed the history, and have something you will be interested in. Had to be late 1920s/early '30s, when no less than NFL HOFer Paddy Driscoll (who played with the Chicago Bears and Chicago Cardinals) was the football coach at our Alma! I only recall that because his name was engraved on some of those trophies in the big case on 2nd floor hallway in the East bldg."

From Robb Soria (class of 1965):

Hi..my name is Robb Soria (although the yearbook has me captured under the name Richard!)
 
I actually found your information by "accident"...but, then again, who doesn't find info on the internet by accident ?
 
Just wanted to share some "trivia" about some St. Mel memories...
 
About 6 years ago, I and my current girlfriend (never married..was always kind of  a playboy)...we were on our way to attend a play in downtown Chicago. We were coming from the far west suburbs, so we took the Eisenhower heading east. It was a beautiful summer evening about 6pm..when we headed into some serious traffic around the Mannheim exit area. I decided that after driving 15-20 miles an hour wasn't going to help us..so, I exited on Austin and Congress. I decided to take Madison Avenue east...at least for a few blocks ( I know what you're thinking..."I must be crazy driving through that neighborhood !"). But, I was anxious to see if the west building of St.Mel was still there. I think this was the year 2006? The lady and I were shaking all the way ..we finally did pass the building (saw it from the street) and couldn't believe the condition of the building or the area. I hadn't been to St. Mel High School since late May,1965..a few days before graduation (which took place at the original McCormick Place).
 
We finally picked up speed and headed further east taking Lake Street...WILL NEVER DO THAT AGAIN !
 
I remember a lot of great things about my attending the school...the brothers were tough...but, they were always fair and could they teach ! I had four years of cross-country, two years of track, was secretary of the National Honor Society, and graduated either 2nd or 3rd out of about 400 other seniors (pretty big class for that era). I NEVER was late for a class or missed even one day during all four years ! Had several senior letters from cross country and had I believe a 98% average for all 4 years ! When I went to DePaul (had a four year scholarship), the discipline and training from the brothers made my college life a lot easier. In addition, I managed to work for two very prestigous law firms and put in a lot of work hours (in spite of the scholarship..needed money for clothes, and other personals). But, again the bottom line is that the college prep training at St. Mel was fantastic !
 
I had a feeling that the "end" of the REAL St. Mel was coming to a close even while I was there. In my first two years, my family lived two blocks away. But, during my Junior year, we moved to Cicero (my father owned a business there and the neighborhood around St. Mel was quickly changing for the worse. I remember, several times, both the cross country teams and the football teams were "attacked" by local gangs. We had no sports facility, so we had to jog down to Garfield Park..about 2 miles east of us. Finally, I think in our senior year, all practices for football, soccer and cross country was done at Columbus Park (by Austin and Congress). In fact, unfortunately, I remember an incident that happened during my Sophomore year..my kid sister and I walked from our home to the local library..near Pulaski and Madison. We were just a block from the library, when two guys punched me in the stomach at the same time...FOR NO REASON! Just trying to "tell us who owns the neighborhood!"
 
I lost touch with most of the guys...I was fortunate to have a lot of friends outside of high school ..so, they became my social life for awhile.
 
Anyway.. I did manage to be contacted add attended my 25th reunion..it was held at the old Sabre Room ..in Hickory Hills (don't think its' still there?) Saw quite of few of the guys..but, again, lost touch.
 
Unfortunately, I was out of town for my 40th reunion in 2005. Heard that a lot of my class attended!
 
I hope to be there for my 50th reunion in 2015 !!!
 
As June 15th, 2012 comes near, I will be celebrating my 40th anniversary as one of the leading life insurance and financial consultants in the country. I have been ACKNOWLEDGED AS THE FIRST OFFICIAL Hispanic Financial Consultant In USA history! I was hired by the large corporation-Trans Union Corporation as a financial analyst. But, then went on my own in 1972.

So...in summary, I have a lot to be thankful for being a graduate of the REAL St. MEL ..Class of 1965 ! Go Knights !!!
 
Robb Soria-Wayne,Il. 
 
ps Still have my high school sweater with all the letters ! It's a little tight on me !

THERE'S PLENTY OF ROOM FOR MORE INFORMATION!!!

We are in need of more information about St. Mel High School, such as names of other outstanding alumni and coaches, and photos of the school building and teams that wore the purple and gold of St. Mel. Send us your information to us at the following addresses:
 
 
By USPS: Illinois High School Glory Days
                6439 North Neva
                Chicago, IL  60631 

St. Mel Drum & Bugle Corps
stmeldrumandbuglecorpsdav.jpg
courtesy of Ann (Corcoran) Jasper