The History of Chicago Aquinas High School
Chicago (population 2.8 million) is located in northeastern Illinois in eastern Cook County. Lake Michigan, along with the Chicago and Des Planes Rivers, are the main waterways to and from town. Interstates 55, 57, 90, and 94 all lead you to the “Windy City.” From what started as a small village in the early 1800’s, Chicago has grown to the nation’s third largest city and one of the most famous places in the world.
As Chicago expanded from its original location at Lake Michigan and the Chicago River, so did the need for creating schools to educate its young people. The Catholic Archdiocese also saw for this need and created schools for the children of Catholic families as neighborhood populations grew.
One such school that was begun for the children of Chicago’s South Side was named Aquinas High School, which opened in 1915 at the corner of 72nd and Clyde in the former Catholic Extension Society building in the Bryn Mawr neighborhood. The school was the only co-educational institution that the Archdiocese of Chicago established at that time at the request of then-Archbishop James Quigley. Seventy-nine students were enrolled in September of that year with eight Sisters from the Sisters of St. Dominic in Adrian, MI in charge.
A new building was erected in 1917 when the first graduating class were presented with their diplomas by new Archbishop George Mundelein. The school offered a general course of study, along with those specializing in household arts and sciences, commercial courses, along with music & art.
In 1930, after the completion of a building addition, the school went to an all-girls’ enrollment and changed its name to Aquinas Dominican High School, per Cardinal Mundelein’s request. Following World War II, Aquinas’ enrollment began to climb upward to 800 during the 1950’s and exceeded its freshmen capacity, which could be a reason why the Archdiocese enacted procedures for limiting overcrowding in its schools thru its freshman entrance examinations. Students either were accepted for enrollment at the school they tested at or advised to attend a public school prior to about 1960, but after that time, students were given additional choices for being placed into another Archdiocese school in order to alleviate overcrowding and fill any vacancies in those schools.
By 1980, the school’s enrollment was down to 417 (most of them African American students) and Aquinas was facing a decline in enrollment and tuition revenues, increasing operating costs, and the lack of teachers within the Dominican community. The Archdiocese decided reorganize Aquinas along with three all-girls’ schools on the South Side (Visitation, Unity, and St. Thomas the Apostle) to form the VAUT Corporate System from which two schools, Aquinas Catholic and Unity Catholic, were formed. Unity Catholic served those who attended St. Thomas the Apostle and Unity (enrollment 622), and remained open until 1988 before merging to become part of St. Martin de Porres, Aquinas Catholic’s student body was from Visitation and Aquinas (totalling 468 that first school year), but was closed following the 1982-83 school year due to declining enrollment.
We have found a website that tells what life was like attending Aquinas Dominican during the early 1960’s. The address is: http://www.iment.com/maida/friends/aquinas/classof62classsong.htm
Aquinas High School Quick Facts
Year opened as Aquinas HS: 1910
Year reopened as Aquinas Dominican and allowed only girls: 1930
Year of merger with Visitation to form Aquinas Catholic: 1980
Year closed: 1983
School nickname: “Angies”
School colors: Black & Gold
School yearbook: “Taquin”
School Fight Song: Aquinas High School Loyalty Song
(courtesy of Mary Van Deusen)
Arise ye faithful Aquinites,
Then lift high the head, the heart, the eye,
To you we sing with hearts afire.