The History of Cairo St. Joseph High School
Cairo (population 3,632) is located in the farthest southern tip of Illinois in the farthest southern portion of Alexander County. Cairo is located at the junction where the Mississippi River meets the Ohio River. U.S. Route 51 is the main roadway leading to and from Cairo. Interstate Highway 57 travels by the northwest side of town. Illinois Routes 3 and 37 lead the way from Cairo to the north. The Illinois Central Gulf and Conrail railroads lay tracks through Cairo as well.
Cairo has a very rich and storied history in the early settlement of the United States. Cairo’s location along the Ohio and MIssissippi Rivers made it an important city during the Civil War. Cairo serves as the County Seat of Alexander County. It was incorporated in 1858 and is the lowest land point in Illinois sitting at 279 feet above sea level.
The early 1900s served as the true “boom” time in Cairo. The population was at an all-time high of over 15,000 residents. The need for higher education was forseen by the Catholic church. In 1916 St. Joseph High School was established in Cairo. The school was managed by the School Sisters of Notre Dame. St. Joseph High served the parishoners and students of Cairo for 46 years.
The following information and memories of St. Joseph High School was provided to us by Joe Profilet, Class of 1949:
“I attended St. Joseph High School from 1945 until graduating in 1949. There were only 9 of us in the graduating class. This was a litle smaller than the average class in those days, but there were never more than about 50-55 students in the whole higih school.
As you noted in your article, the school was manned by the School Sisters of Notre Dame. There were 4 rooms on the second floor of the building pictute that housed the high school. Each room had a nun as a home room teacher. The school required 4 years of English (grammar and rhetoric), general mathematics, algebra I and II, geometry and trigonometry.
There were courses in chemistry and physics and general science. And naturally each semester there was a course in the Catechism of the Catholic Faith.
During many years in the 40’s until its closing the school was run by Fr. Rudolph Jantzen who was the superintendent. One nun served as the principle.
On the bottom floor of the school were 4 class rooms. Each held two classes of the elementary school. One nun taught both years: 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, and 7-8. There was no kindergarten class
The High School boys basketball team was coached by Coach Jimmie Darrow. Jimmie was not otherwise employed by the school. It was a volunteer job. Jimmie otherwise was employed in others jobs. One was as a clerk in a sporting goods store in downtown Cairo. He also worked at one time at Woodward Hardware, a wholesale company located in Cairo.
The high school boys basketball team, as you know, was named the Fighting Irish. This was kind of humorous looking back on it, since St. Josephs was the “German” Catholic Church in town. The Irish parish, was St. Patricks. The St. Pat’s kids did come to St. Josephs for High School, since that parish only had a grammar school. Not all of the St. Pat’s kids went on to St. Joe High, but went on to the public Cairo High School.”
Along with the steadily decreasing population trend in Cairo came a steadily decreasing student population. St. Joseph High School was effected by this trend and had dipped to an enrollment of 45 students in 1952 for grades 9 – 12. The decision was made to close St. Joseph High School. Having no other parochial school in the area, the Cairo St. Joseph students would attend Cairo High School to continue their education.
Cairo St. Joseph High School Quick Facts
Year opened: 1916
Year closed: 1952
Enrollment Final Year: 45 students (Grades 9 – 12)
St. Joseph HS team nickname: the “Fighting Irish”
St. Joseph HS team colors: Blue & Gold
School Fight Song: “Cheer, Cheer to Old St. Joe High”
Notre Dame University Fight Song Tune