Chicago St. Xavier Academy

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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."
Year opened:            1847
Year closed:             1956
School colors:           Lavender & Gold
School song:             "St. Xavier, Dear St. Xavier"
                                           Submitted by Jane Francis Glenn (Class of 1955) 
                                St. Xavier, dear St. Xavier,
                                Your lavender and gold;
                                Will always be as dear to me
                                As in the days of old.
                                Your daughters too are always true, 
                                Oh alma mater fair;
                                A hymn of praise to you we raise
                                To you our hearts declare.
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, MercySt. 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."

from Karin Sorenson Grandione:

"I attended St Xavs for first and second grade beginning in 1947. I live in South Shore and was picked up by the bus everyday.


"I remember two things about the school. First of all, my best friend was Judy Crippen, who rode the bus with me every day. To this day, I wish I could locate her. Secondly, one day I decided I wanted to go to one of my friend’s house after school. So I wrote this wonderful (1st grade) note to the nun in charge.  It requested that I be allowed to get off the bus at my friend’s house on the way home from school. Somehow????? The nun approved the request and I did not get off the bus where I was supposed to – rather I got off at my friend’s house. My mother, in turn, became quite frantic when I did not get home when I should have. I have no recollection of the reprecussions to the nun who allowed this to happen.

"Also, I do remember the uniforms because I have a very good picture of myself sitting at a round table (1st grade) with a few other girls who were my classmates. In the picture, hanging on the wall behind the round table was my classwork with my name on it. The uniform was navy blue with a little pleated skirt, a bolero one-button jacket and a white round collar blouse. I loved going to that school and was very sad when I had to leave during second grade because we left Chicago to move to Pittsburgh.

"Many many years later, I returned to Chicago as a married person and a teacher. I had occasion to visit McAuley high school and to chat with one of the nuns. I mentioned the round table that I remembered from first grade and she was very excited. She said the tables still existed and were in a storage area on the top floor of McAuley High School and were still being used for little children when they visited the high school. She also stated that all of those round tables had been built by her father. She was thrilled to meet me and I was also quite moved that I remembered something that made that nun very happy. By the way, my first grade teacher’s name was Sister Maurice."

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 email: or
By USPS mail:  Illinois High School Glory Days
                        6439 North Neva
                        Chicago, IL  60631