The School’s Early Years
When the St. John Neumann, a Redemptorist, became Bishop of Philadelphia in 1852, he sought to provide a solid Catholic education for the children and youth of his diocese. Many credit Bishop Neumann with organizing our present parochial system of Catholic education in America: “Every Catholic child in a Catholic school.” He engaged the School Sisters of Notre Dame to teach in Redemptorist parochial schools, and this cooperation between Redemptorists and the School Sisters of Notre Dame continued in Chicago at St. Alphonsus, St. Michael and St. James.
The first parishioners built a school at the same time they built the first frame church. Facing Southport, it was a temporary frame structure; 120 feet long, 50 feet wide and contained four classrooms on the first floor. The upper floor was reserved as a temporary convent for the sisters.
The School Sisters of Notre Dame were experts in education and had one of the largest religious Orders in the Church. Father Essing applied to their motherhouse in Milwaukee. Rev. Mother M. Caroline sent four sisters to open the school.
When the new school opened its doors for the first time in September of 1892, 70 children were registered. By 1886 the school enrollment had grown to more than 500 boys and girls. To accommodate them, the first pastor built a convent for the Sisters and converted their former quarters into four more classrooms (making eight total). At this time, St. Alphonsus parish also had a branch school at Paulina and Wrightwood. It was actually the first floor of a large residence, rented from a Mr. Marske, and used as an additional classroom for younger parish children living in that neighborhood.Â
By the time St. Gerard’s chapel was completed in 1890 there were more than 800 pupils being taught. The old frame church was converted into a school building, but the parish continued to expand. By 1900, the walls were bulging with 1,650 boys and girls.
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