|Chicago Visitation High School Building
|Submitted by Kathleen Brennan Mammoser
The History of Chicago Visitation High School
Chicago (population: 2.8 million) is located along the shores of Lake Michigan in northeastern
Illinois. From its early days as a Potawatomie settlement, then as the site of Fort Dearborn in 1803, which led up to the
formation of the city and its incorporation in 1833 and 1837, respectively, the "City of Big Shoulders" became a major location
in the US for various reasons. Railroads and water transportation were two reasons why Chicago was one of the fastest growing
cities in the country during the 19th Century.
Today, numerous railroads and highways of interstate, US, state, and local designations bring people
together in the city on a daily basis, as does air traffic at O'Hare and Midway Airports. Chicago is a melting pot of people
from many nationalities, making it ethnically diverse, and thus, is referred to as "the cultural, economic, and financial
capital of the Midwest" (according to Wikipedia).
Visitation High School was opened on Chicago's South Side on Garfield Boulevard
in the Back of the Yards or Sherman Park neighborhood as a co-educational institution in 1915, offering a four-year academic
curriculum and a one-year commercial course of study. The Sisters of St. Dominic from Sinsinawa, WI staffed the parish school
with 165 students in classes that first school year. That arrangement only lasted until 1922 when the school decided to continue
as an centrally located all-girls' high school at the request of then-Archbishop George Mundelein.
The school added space in 1937 when over 600 students were enrolled, and more space was still added
in 1940, 1943, and 1948. Enrollment reached 1,000 students in 1952, which (according to a 1953 dissertation by Sr. Mary Innocenta
Montay) made Visitation the largest parish-operated school in the Archdiocese of Chicago. The peak for students was at 1,100
in 1958-59, at which time the school was seriously overcrowded and fire & building code violations were found, which led
to setting an limit of 900 students.
Until 1960, the school was predomiently Caucasian, but due to an incident in August 1963, the racial
makeup changed the neighborhood as well as most of the south side forever, Three African-American families moved in near the
Visitation campus, which sparked a week of violence with 158 people being arrested before area clergy and civic authorities
were able to get things under control. The end result was that Caucasian families started to move from the Back of the Yards
neighborhood, triggering what was called "White Flight" and the enrollment of many south side schools (Visitation included)
started to plummet.
In 1976, Visitation's enrollment was small enough that it moved into St. Theodore Elementary School.
Four years later, the Archdiocese of Chicago decided to close Visitation along with three other all-girls' high schools on
the South Side (Aquinas, St. Thomas the Apostle, and Unity), merging them into two. Visitation's girls were sent to Aquinas and formed Aquinas Catholic, while the other
two schools made up Unity Catholic.
Unfortunately, Aquinas Catholic did not stay open beyond the 1982-83 school year and had to close
its doors for financial reasons. The fate of the Visitation building is positive, as it still stands today as a grade
school with a Dominican nun as its principal, according to Visitation alumnae Nancy Singer Hoca.
INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT VISITATION HIGH SCHOOL
Year opened as co-ed school: 1915
Year it become all-girls': 1922
Year of closure:
Blue & White
"Our Beloved Visitation"
by SARAH "SALLY" (FLEMMING) TOBLESKY & ELLEN BRETON
Our beloved Visitation,
Filled with childhood hopes and dreams
Girlhood aspirations high, friendships warm with fireside gleams
Ours a school that memory hallows
Holds towards us her portals fair
with sunlit hopes of youth,
Dight with incense rare of prayer
Alma Mater Visitation High,
loyal, hearts in joyous praise
Chant thy praises to the azure skies
True to thee will be always
Ave Ave true to thee always
ACTIVITIES AND ATHLETICS
We are certain that there was an athletic history (albeit a short one) at Visitation.
Prep historian Robert Pruter says the school was a member of the Catholic High School Girls' Basketball
League from 1927-31. It competed with the likes of St. Catherine (later known as Siena), Loretto High, Longwood, Loretto Academy, Mercy, St. Xavier, St. Scholastica, St. Mary, Aquinas, Alvernia, Wilmette Mallinckrodt, and Evanston Marywood. The league broke up in 1931-32 when the Catholic Youth Organization created its own league.
IS IT POSSIBLE...
that other activities such as band, chorus, school plays, or student council were offered at the school? Yes, there certainly
was student life outside of the classroom. Read on further and you'll see from some of the alumnae comments that the girls
from "Viz" did have fun in extra-curricular activities.
From Patricia Burgin Sumner (Class of 1953).
"As I recall, we didn't have school colors or a school song. The high
school was on one corner and the convent was across the street just east of the school so that we could see it from our classrooms. The
nuns could see us when the standard punishment for our classmates was to hang them out the window. We kept the windows
open in good weather so we could hear them laughing and singing and playing badminton.
"Our uniforms were navy blue suits with white open neck blouses and they were never to be repaired. The
badge of honor for a senior was to have the most raggedy jacket imaginable.
"We did have sports and plays. I was a guard on the basketball team and was too shy to play
Puck when asked by the Drama teacher. I can't remember her name but met her again as an adult when she was the date brought
along by my date's roommate. She again chastised me for turning down Puck and I spent the whole evening trying to get used
to calling her by her first name.
"When I contracted polio and spinal meningitis in sophomore year, the whole
school went out onto Garfield Blvd. to pray for me. High school may
have been painful for a lot of people; but, I had the best classmates in the world."
From Lee Bormet:
"I attended Visitation kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, and a few months of
3rd grade up until 1952. The nickname of the school and parish was "Viz." The convent was across the street from
the high school and the nuns gave piano lessons on the first floor of the convent. Recitals
were held in the auditorium of the high school."
From Sarah "Sally" (Flemming) Toblesky (Class of 1959):
"I graduated from the class of 1959. Yes we had class plays. In fact,
I was part of the back stage crew at our Sr. Class Play. We did have a student Council. I played basketball only
because I had to in gym class. I can't recall if we had a team who played other schools. We
held special dances (girls asked the boys)....Senior proms and Sock Hops.
"Unfortunately I lost all of the paraphernalia from my senior year except for my class ring
which my daughter now wears. I sure hope someone out there knows the words to that song because I still remember the
"I had the most wonderful 4 years of my life at Visitation. I was just an average girl but
had good friends and loved all the sisters. Yes we called it 'Viz'...There was always so much offered to us you couldn't help
but be proud to be a student there.
"We had a very well-rounded curriculum. They offered clerical classes for gals who wanted
to be secretaries. They offered all the courses girls needed to attend college. They also offered cooking, sewing, etc. I
received a very good education.
"I remember once we actually had a ballet company
come and dance at the school. There was always something going on in that regards. Another time we had musicians
playing classical music. We were always exposed to many facets of life. In my senior year we had a mother/daughter
tea, and a father/daughter square dance. I
also seem to recall that our 1959 class had the distinction of having some of the smartest seniors in the city of Chicago.
"The freshman and sophomore's uniform was a dark navy blue jacket and skirt with a white blouse. The
Jrs and Srs wore light blue jackets and skirt with a white blouse. We had to be able to tell who were upper classwomen!! First
Friday of every month, we could wear street clothes so that we could get our uniforms cleaned.
"When I was a sophomore our class got into a lot of trouble. Toward the end of school,
as we were going home, we started ripping up our uniform jackets as this was the last time we had to wear them. It was
a sight seeing all those girls leaving parts of their uniform jackets on the street! Well, word got back to Mother Superior, who was livid over the stories she was being told. When we got back
to school Monday morning, on the bulletin board in our respective homerooms was a note stating that all Sophomore's would
be required to continue wearing their dark blue uniforms! Oh my gosh....happy ending, I found a friend who still had her dark
blue uniform jacket and loaned it to me, thank goodness I still had my skirt! That was quite a blemish on our class. But
by the time we were seniors, we had resurrected ourselves.
"Viz also had a lot of after-school clubs like, English, Math, History, creative writing, etc. We
had a senior year book. In fact, we had everything available to us that any other high school had -
except boys :)!
"That's all I can recall...pretty good considering this year is my 50th anniversary since my
graduation in 1959!"
From Donna Williamson Gullo, (Class of '67)
"I went to Visitation Grammer School from 1st-8th grades - graduating in
1963. I also went to Vis High School - graduating in 1967.
wore blue jackets and blue/white skirts in Freshman/Soph years. Jr and Sr years we wore Grey Jackets and a Grey/White
Skirt. We also had a Glee Club, which was an elective class for Jrs
"Freshman and Sophomores had no electives. Depending on your entrance scores you were given your
classes by the school. The order was: Latin I & II, French I & II, Spanish I & II , or Home Economics / Cooking. Math: Algebra or General Math Freshman Year followed by Geometry or Algebra
for Soph. year. We had Gym class in Freshman Year but then the Gym Teacher quit and they never got a new gym teacher until
our Sr. year (after the Sr schedule had already been made) so Srs did not have gym that year either.
"We attended school from 8:00 am - 3:00 pm. Each of our classes were 55
minutes long. We had 5 minutes to get to our next class. They made the halls and stairways into one way corridors, so depending
on where you were you would have to go up or down and across the floors to get to your next class. They even split our
lunch period up. You would have, study, lunch, study or lunch, study, study or study, study, lunch, all in one
hour and the Lunch Room was in the basement of the Grammer School! You had to go to 54th Place and enter the lunch room
from the back door and after lunch you went out the front door back to the High School. They did allow us the choice of going
to a study hall or going to the gym to play volleyball during the lunch hour.
"Our Jr Class Trip went
to Springfield Illinois and our Sr class trip was the first not to go to Washington, DC. Instead, we went to Montreal/Quebec
for the Expo '67. We took a chartered flight there and one of the priests
came out to the plane and gave us all final absolution before the plane departed. It was a 6 engine plane and don't you
know that they had a problem with one of the engines before take off and had to restart the engines a second time. As it was
a private charter the pilots let us come up to the cockpit in groups of 2-3 and they showed us how the plane flew and let
us hear the traffic instructions through their earpieces. The stewardess's showed us where the glasses, soda and ice
were at and to help ourselves through out the flight while they sat back and talked to the nuns. They really gave us
alot of freedom on that trip.
"In Quebec we toured the old part of the city, an island in the St.Lawrence
Seaway (where they only spoke French) and had a sock hop held just for us at a College with guys from the school invited
even! In Montreal we were given an envelope with money for food at
the Exp, told how to get back to our motel via public transportation, in case we decided to leave the Expo earlier than the
rest of the class. We were told to stay in groups of 3 or more and if we were leaving early to find another group from
the school and pass on that information so they would know why we did not show up at the gate at closing. Considering
the size of the Expo and all the exhibits the group I was with never saw anyone from our school until the gate that night.
This was really trusting of them because all with the Expo was the Navy Fleet, where I know alot of the groups spent the whole
day! We all made it back to Chicago without any problems.
"We had many clubs
at the school. Their were among them the Drama Club (put on the play "Mrs O"Leary's Cow), Art Club, French Club,
Library Club, Big Sisters, Sodality Club (the president of this club was the girl who did the May Crowning) to mention a few.
We were the first class that did not have the big May Crowning on the Blvd. with the whole Grammar and High School lined up
in the grass in front of the grotto outside the rectory.
"We also had the mother/daughter tea and father/daughter
square dance. Of which I had the priviledge of attending with my parents.
"I will never forget the great
times, great people, great neighborhood and great school. I am proud to be an Alumni of Visitation."
From Kathleen Brennan Mammoser, (Class
"There were no athletics teams, but
there was a Senior Class play put on every year. We had the Junior-Senior Tea and the
Mother-Daughter Tea and the Father-Daughter Dance. We had Student Council, Alumnae Club, Art Club, Big Sister Council, Biology
Club, Catholic Action (the president of this club crowned the Blessed Virgin
statue on the Boulevard on Mother's Day), Drama Club, French Club, Glee Club,
History Club, Library Club, Math-Science Club, Mission Club, Quill and Scroll Society, National Honor Society, Spanish Club,
the VAA Board and Sodality. The name of the school literary magazine was Vista and we had a yearbook. Until 1965 the yearbook
had a soft cover. The only formal pictures in the yearbook were the seniors."
From Virginia Heckert (class of 1960):
"A VERY INTERESTING fact about Visitation parish is in about 1940 they built a separate building to house the Kindergarten
students. This one-story building was VERY unique and it was BEAUTIFUL! Inside it had a mosaic tiled fishpond (BEAUTIFUL)
with a waterfall. Everything was in small scale: the toilets, the sinks, tables, chairs and it had a separate kitchen
with little electric stoves whereby the children did learn to bake. It had a fireplace (BEAUTIFUL stonework) with a huge
oriental rug on the floor for story hour.
"Also, rather interesting is the fact that in the 1940's & 50's thru 1960 (when I attended Visitation grade school
& H. S.), the convent housed 64 nuns. Music lessons were also taught after school hours in the convent for reasonable
fees. The dining area for the nuns was something to behold and each nun took her plate & silverware, etc. and scraped
it off in the kitchen area aft. meals. Likewise, the laundry area was massive. The chapel was not that large; but it
accommodated the nuns for daily Mass and Office and was a very comforting space. Can't explain it, but you felt spiritually
fulfilled there or something. This chapel was only for the nuns and very few of us ever got to see it.
"In the grade school
we had 4 rooms of each grade with 60+ kids in each room (we were the "War Babies" so they had to add on an add'l. room for
our class (to total 4 instead of 3 rooms) as we progressed ea. yr.). (1948-1956). The entire grade school went home for lunch and returned
within an hour. We marched down the stairs of the 3-story building every day as the school band played a march. We
could NOT touch the banisters and had to stand tall (single-file) and march.
"In the basement
of the grade school was a cafeteria for the High School students and also in a separate area, a bowling alley for aft. school
use (evening leagues) for the H. S. students and other adult parish organizations. The H. S. had a gym and an auditorium with a professional stage. The grade school had a yearly St. Patrick's Day Show that
the entire grade school participated. Tickets were sold and each class performed.
"Between the Church & the Rectory (in the late 50's) was a shrine of Our Lady of Fatima with a kneeler
whereby people could stop and kneel and pray in the outside
"VISITATION HAD THE LARGEST AND MOST ELABORATE AND BEAUTIFUL MAY PROCESSION/MAY CROWNING OF
THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY!!! All of Garfield Blvd. was closed for blocks and blocks. The entire school (High School
and Grade School and perhaps the Kindergarten students) took part in this thrilling event. It was beautiful!!! Then, Monsignor Burns
(1940's-50), or Monsignor Wolf in later years, would always give us the next day off which was always a Monday.
"The May Crowning, I know, must have made an impression on all the kids and their parents.
I know my playmates and I always reenacted it in my backyard . . . complete with saying the rosary out loud and some neighbors
joining in. This is true.
"Visitation was a wonderful parish. I understand there is another Visitation parish in Elmhurst,
Il, and I have been told that the pastor there (now or in the recent past) was a Visitation (Garfield Blvd. - BACK OF THE
YARDS/SHERMAN PK.) parishioner when he was young and I was told that he tries to run Visitation in Elmhurst, IL, the way our
Visitation was run. If so, it must be a great parish!"
WE'VE GOT A LOT OF GAPS TO FILL IN...
and that's where we need your help. If you are an alumnus of Visitation, had a daughter attend the school,
or even just have information that would help fill in this page, then we want to hear from you. Information such as school
colors, nickname, what activities did they offer, memories, and more are what we need. Photos are also acceptable. Please
contact us by email or USPS at the addresses listed below. We appreciate all the help we can get!
by USPS: Illinois High School Glory Days