|St. Xavier Academy
|Credit: Lake County Discovery Museum/Curt Teich Postcard Archives
|Chicago St. Xavier Academy
|Submitted by Ellen DePriest
The History of Chicago St. Xavier Academy
Chicago (population 2.8 million) is located along the shores
of Lake Michigan and is the third largest city in the
United States, settled first as Fort Dearborn in 1803. From there, it grew and was incorporated as a city
in 1837. Chicago attracted many immigrants during the second half of the 19th Century, even with the Great Chicago Fire of
1871, and was considered to have been the fastest growing city in the US during that 50-year period.
Those who wish to reach the "City of Big Shoulders" can do so by travelling on Interstates 55, 57, 90, and 94, along with various state and US highways,
or taking train service into Union Station along the
Chicago River with many carriers coming into the city daily, or
by flying into Midway Airport or one of the busiest airports
in the world, O'Hare International Airport. The city
is known for many things and its numerous celebrities, and was the starting point of the former US Route 66 for those heading
West from the eastern part of the US. The Chicago and Des Plaines Rivers also flow in or near the city, and served as a port for barge traffic from those on the East Coast that
wished to ship their goods to New Orleans by using the Illinois and Michigan Canal to connect with the Illinois River at LaSalle, then southward to the Mississippi River where it
reached its destination.
St. Xavier Academy was opened as a girls' school on October
12th, 1846 as the result of the arrival of the Sisters of Mercy from Pittsburgh, PA on September 23rd, 1846. Mother Francis Xavier Warde
led a group of six nuns who came and opened St. Mary's School for
Girls, which was the first parochial girls' school in Chicago, at St. Mary's Church
to compliment a boys' grade school that was already established. St. Xavier Academy was opened in the Beaubien House at the rear of the convent as a select school for 50 select students
(40 day, 10 boarders), plus a school for those converting to Catholicism as well as a night school (which later become
St. Xavier College) were opened at the same time.
The school outgrew its location quickly and Bishop William Quarter
(then head of the Chicago diocese) had a new building constructed for the school on Wabash Avenue
near St. Mary's Cathedral in 1847. An addition was built in 1865, but the Great Chicago Fire wiped out everything in
1871. A new facility was opened in 1873 at Wabash and 29th Street as classes were held in a frame house in the interim. Then
in 1901, the school moved to a ten-acre location on Cottage Grove Avenue on the city's south side between 49th and 50th Streets.
Due to an internal reorganization, the school became a facility for grades one thru 12 in 1934
as grades one thru six were for the elementary division, seven thru 12 were secondary. The last two years of the secondary
division were also considered as part of St. Xavier College.
A new gym and science hall were constructed in 1941, but it still wasn't enough to meet the needs
of educating young Catholic females who wanted to attend the school. In 1952, the Sisters bought 155 acres at 103rd Street
and Central Park Avenue and built separate facilities to house the college and high school that opened in the fall of 1956.
The high school was renamed Mother McAuley High School
in honor of the Venerable Mother Catherine McAuley, the founder of the Sisters of
Mercy order in Dublin, Ireland in 1831. It should be noted that the title "Venerable" was bestowed upon Mother McAuley
by Pope John Paul II in 1990, which puts her closer to being granted sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church.
The fate of the former St. Xavier High School building, a good one at that, was sent to
us by Robert K. Fields:
"The site at 49th and Cottage Grove is now Hales Franciscan High School, an all-boys predominately
African-American school. I am not sure when it opened, but it has been there since at least the late 60's. The school
has one of the best basketball programs in the state."
St. Xavier prided itself on turning out students that were of high quality and moral standards. In most
cases, the girls either went into college with the hope of becoming teachers, took commercial courses to work in offices, or
joined the convent to become Sisters of Mercy,
Here is a list of some of the courses that were offered to St. Xavier students in the 1890's: orthographic
diction, grammar, penmanship, composition, geography, sacred history, familiar science, English literature, French, German,
algebra, geometry, chemistry, astronomy, geology, philosophy, natural history, botany, physiology, and bookkeeping.
We are aware St. Xavier was a member of the Catholic High School Girls' Basketball League from 1927-31,
but did not win a conference title. Other schools that competed were St. Catherine (later known as Siena), Visitation, Loretto High, Loretto Academy, Longwood, Mercy, St. Mary, Alvernia, Aquinas, Evanston Marywood, and Wilmette Mallickrodt. The conference was broken up by the formation of a new league by the Catholic Youth Organization in 1932.
From Carol (Hicks) McShan:
"I was a student in the primary grades in the early 50's and have a few memories from that time. There was a hot lunch
served and I recall, not too fondly I must say, a Friday menu of salmon loaf,
peas, saltines and grapefruit juice.
"In my classroom we played instruments
daily; I was assigned the triangle and sticks. The May crowning, in a beautiful side garden, was filled with flowers and brightly colored ribbons.
"Our little uniforms, which my
grandmother made for me by hand, were navy blue pleated skirts, Eisenhower
jackets, white Peter Pan collared blouses, white anklet socks and black oxford shoes. We also were required to have a
handkerchief pinned somewhere on our uniforms."
**From Carol Gleason Rafferty
"I read with interest the information found via Google about St. Xavier
Academy. It seemed as though this very special icon just about disappeared through the years. I attended SXC starting
in 1st grade in 1951 with Sister Honorata as my teacher. She was just about as tall as all her students.
I recall attending special speech class with Miss Crowe and dancing with Ms. Hauck. There was a beautiful
chapel where I made my first communion. We walked 'single file' down the hallways which were beautiful wood with a path of vinyl trimmed with oak. This
was where we walked.
"There were college girls in the building. I recall the hot lunch and the meatless Fridays, little glass bottles of milk and coca-cola vending machines for 5 cents a purchase. We had recess
on the grounds and rode the school bus to and from school with some poor nun always assigned to the ride.
"Gym was in a separate building at which our first grade 'rhythm band' performed. I played the drum. I recall the
best of education, wonderful friends and an experience I anticipated each day. A wonderful time! I attended until the school
closed and moved to 103rd street. I did attend St. Xavier College as well."
**From Mary Ruddick Silze:
"I attended St. Xavier Academy from 1948-1951, transferring at the beginning of 5th grade from St. Rita's School on the
South Side of Chicago. The classes were small, about 14-16 girls per grade, and the 5th and 6th grades
met together for many activities such as art, PE, music, drama, etc. and a portion of class time in certain subjects. I
was "smart" and advanced quickly in math, English, etc. The principal recommended to my parents that I complete the curriculum
for both 5th and 6th grades in one year and move into 7th grade the following fall, which I did.
"It was an easy transition since we girls had friends in both grades and the nuns were readily available for any help
I needed to cover the extra ground. It was exciting to wear the uniform of the 7th and 8th grade girls the following
fall - houndstooth check straight skirts (instead of navy pleated skirts), white blouses and navy blazers. We felt VERY
grown-up compared to the younger girls.
"I rode the school bus for about 35-40 minutes to and from school each day. None of my schoolmates lived within
walking distance of each other, so our social time was on the bus. The school was situated on a beautiful campus - the old
estate-like grounds and buildings were magnificent - surrounded by a high wrought-iron fence patroled by security guards to
assure a safe enclave for all the women. Our "PE" was mainly playing softball outside at lunch time, when the weather
permitted, with the nuns coaching us and playing on our teams.
"We staged plays and programs in which we girls also took the male parts. I was once John Paul Jones in an
historic production and in a Thanksgiving play, I got to be a turkey and stomped around the stage in what
was euphemistically called a dance. When we studied history and geography, we would form teams and create colored-chalk
murals on the blackboards on three sides of the room, illustrating what we were learning. We knew many of the nuns from
the convent and often would see the high school and college girls around the campus.
"During my first year at SXA, one of the elderly nuns in the convent died, and we girls lined up and walked to where
she was lying in state, to pay our respects and recite the rosary. It was my first, and to this day my only, viewing
of a dead person in a coffin. I still recall the shock of seeing how pale her face and folded
hands appeared, clad in her black and white habit.
"In 1951, my family moved from Chicago to the State of Washington. SXA always had a toy drive at Christmas-time to
collect our outgrown games and toys to deliver to the poor. That year, I contributed most of my childhood toys before moving,
with mixed emotions. I left SXA with reluctance, having cherished the quality education and the direction and
stability of the nuns who guided us to develop Godly moral values and habits of prayer. I felt secure in an environment
with friends who, like me, were eager to learn and to please. It was a good place for young girls to become young women, and I'm sorry to learn that the school is gone. In thinking back, I guess the only
thing I DIDN'T like about SXA was the oxford shoes we had to wear...I
longed for sandals or Mary Janes instead!"
From Sheila Winters:
"I have found your website "Glory Days" in an attempt to get more information on a silver medal I possess. I am
an antique owner in McIntosh, Florida. The wonderful little medal is a Senior Medal awarded to Nannie Brown and dated June
23, 1892. I will be glad to photograph it for you, as it really quite lovely, and perhaps there is a museum that would like
to have it, or better yet, a member of Miss Brown's family? Please let me know if this would be of any use."
WHAT MEMORIES DO SOME OF YOUR RELATIVES HAVE?
Certainly, we feel that there have to been some older family members who may remember or even attended St.
Xavier Academy in Chicago that could tell some stories or recall a few things. We invite those thoughts to be submitted to
us as well as facts about the school at the following addresses. The Sisters of Mercy have had a profound effect on the history
of education in the state of Illinois, as well as world-wide, so please let us know.
By USPS mail: Illinois High School Glory Days
6439 North Neva
Chicago, IL 60631