St. Gregory the Great High School - 75 years in Edgewater

Vol. XXIV No. 1 - SPRING 2013

By: Kathryn Gemperle

This year, St. Gregory the Great High School celebrates 75 years of service to the city of Chicago and the Edgewater neighborhood. In December, 2012, the Archdiocese of Chicago announced that the school will close at the end of the school year. Since the announcement to students and families, steps have been taken to help students to transition to other high schools. Most notably, students have been guided to Holy Trinity High School on Division Street. The St. Gregory school building is in need of some repairs, especially the windows, which have weathered more than 60 Chicago winters. It is expected that the building will be used as a charter school that is supported by the Chicago Public Schools and does not charge tuition. This year, 2013, will be the final chapter in the history of a wonderful parish high school.

Students who attended the first St. Gregory High School attended class in the building set up for elementary school. Most of them walked to school and the parishioners of St. Gregory supported their low cost tuition. This was at the end of the Depression and before the U.S. Entry into World War II.

In the 1940s St. Gregory parish was able to raise the funds for the current high school building, which opened in 1951. Students now had a building of their own and with it more activities. The parish opened the Msg. Klasen gym building in 1949 which included six classrooms to provide additional room for classes. In the 1980s the school served almost 500 students.

As the times changed so did the school. In Chicago, some Catholic high schools closed but many of the parish sponsored schools remained open. In the 1970s the population of Chicago changed, becoming more diverse. Students began to come from areas further away from Edgewater/Andersonville. Students who had done poorly in our city’s Public and Catholic schools began to look for a place to start over. St. Gregory became that place. Getting a fresh start in high school after making some mistakes can be a wonderful thing and many graduates of the school will attest to this.

But more changes were ahead. In the 2000s students began arriving from many countries of the world. Some were refugees from the Middle East like war torn Lebanon and countries of South and Central America. Others came from India and the Philippines. They mixed in easily with a diverse student body. Students arrived from Viet Nam, Thailand, South Korea and Hong Kong with limited English but a solid education seeking a transition and an American diploma. Other students came from countries in Africa: Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, the Congo and Ethiopia. It was especially noticeable in the cafeteria students mixed in together, not separating by ethnic or racial group. Everyone at the school had to brush up on their geography. We began collecting flags too.

In the last few years the student body was expanded with a number of students from even further away from Chicago. Many of these students came from Nepal and Myammar and spent most of their childhood in refugee camps in Thailand. Some came from Iraq by way of other countries. These students spoke very little English to start with but they found a warm and accepting environment. Step one seemed to be learning how to greet people in several languages. Step two was more focused on making friends and getting the international language of math and being comfortable with speaking English. Catholic Charities coordinated their placement in areas near St. Greg’s and helped the families get established in apartments.

What this diverse student body brought to the school are students who are lively learners and are willing to work hard. Teachers learned to stop and focus on the specific meaning of an English word, since so many have multiple meanings. Sports teams changed. The new students didn’t know baseball, but the soccer teams for both boys and girls are top notch, winning championships in 2011. And basketball is thriving for both boys and girls.

The mission of the high school has changed and expanded with the student body. As everyone strives for excellence, all have learned that a diverse student body is a special reward. This is the place where you can learn more and be a part of a community. The ethnic breakdown of the school does not tell the entire story. Students who learn in different ways teach each other and care for one another. It may be the best example of the gospel description of a Christian “See how they loved one another.”

So the celebration of the 75 years of St. Gregory the Great High School goes beyond the celebrations of successful alumni and big fundraising. It is the celebration of a mission that changed with the community that came to St. Greg’s. All are welcome at St. Greg’s and, in this last year, we will celebrate all year long.

Some special events have been created so that Alumni can return one last time to see the school. On February 8th, the Alums will host an event after the last basketball game. On March 2nd, the school will host an open house following an afternoon mass at 4:30 p.m. at St. Gregory the Great Church. Both events will raise some funds to help scholarship students who will be going to other schools with higher tuition.

For the past 19 years, I have had the good fortune to teach at this amazing school.