Chicago Providence High School

Chicago Providence High School
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Courtesy of Mary Menard
Our Lady of Providence/Providence High School
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Credit: Lake County Discovery Museum/Curt Teich Postcard Archives.

The History of Chicago Providence H.S.

Chicago (population 2.8 million) is in northeastern Illinois in eastern Cook County. Lake Michigan, along with the Chicago and Des Plaines Rivers being the main waterways in the city. Interstates 55, 57, 90, & 94 will all lead you to the “Windy City,” as will numerous state and US highways. From what started as a small village in the early 1800’s along the banks of Lake Michigan, Chicago has grown to the nation’s third largest city and one of the most famous places in the world, as the result of an ethnically diverse community that adopted the city.

In 1887, the Sisters of Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods officially opened Our Lady of Sorrows as an all-girls school, with nine students attending, The school graduated its first two students in 1891. The school was renamed Our Lady of Providence Academy (or Providence Academy for short) in 1898 when the school was moved into the former St. Mary’s Seminary.

Additions were made to the building in 1907 and 1914 as more students were enrolled, and was later renamed Providence High School in 1921 after then-Archbishop George Mundelein selected the school to be a central girls’ high school for the Archdiocese of Chicago. As the enrollment continued to grow, there was another need to build a modern location, which was completed in 1929 on Central Park Avenue.

Providence HS Sisters
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Submitted by Joan Tutor Machala

The school continued to grow in enrollment, topping out at 1,171 in the fall of 1955. It was also considered to be the largest all-girls’ high school in the Archdiocese of Chicago during the 1950’s. However, the construction of the Congress (now Eisenhower) Expressway in 1955 would be a factor in the school’s closing years later, due to the displacement of families from nearby schools and parishes that might have sent their daughters to Providence.

Providence kept its’ all-girls’ enrollment intact until 1969 when the school merged with all-boys’ St. Mel High School to become Providence-St. Mel High School. Prior to its closing, other Catholic high schools in the Archdiocese referred 8th graders to PHS in order to try and fill slots in the incoming freshmen classes, but it was not successful. Even accepting remedial and adult education students did not help the school stay open on its own two feet.

In addition to the construction of the highway, the racial changes that also occurred in the West Side neighborhood during the 1960’s were another reason as to why the school merged with St. Mel.

According to Brother Tom Hetland, who serves as Alumni Director for the St. Mel Alumni Association, “At that time (1969), the boys merged with the girls and all created Providence-St. Mel in the Providence HS building at Central Park and Jackson. When Providence-St. Mel began as a merged school, both the Christian Brothers and the Sisters of Providence were still actively involved.”

Although it is no longer operating under the auspices of the Archdiocese of Chicago, Providence-St. Mel is still open today at the same Central Park Avenue location that Providence students attended on Chicago’s West Side after parents and administration fought to keep up it open in 1978.


Year opened (as Our Lady of Sorrows):                     1887

First graduating class (2):                                        1891

Changed name to Our Lady of Providence & moved:   1898

Year renamed Providence High School:                     1921

New building opened:                                               1929

Year closed:                                                           1969

Now used as:                                                          Providence-St. Mel HS

School song:

“Daughters of Providence High”

        Courtesy of MARY MENARD

Life is at its Maytime;

Never such a gay time…

All the earthy’s a garden fair.

Come, from your very soul,

All youth and innocence dare.

Friendship’s all around us;

Let it me said of us,

Hand in hand, and eye to eye,

Grand, what’s ahead of us;

Let it be said of us,

Flowers bloom when we pass by.

Life waits us, glorious;

Forward, Victorious

Daughters of Providence High.

There’s God in the sky above us;

Sweet Mary to plead our part;

Strong angels to guide us, 

A Saviour beside us,

Gay courage in ev’ry girl’s heart.

All earth is one happy highway,

With Heaven our sunlit goal.

Go swing along

Sing along,

All the world

Bring along.

Sisters in soul.

No task and no odds will daunt us;

We laugh in unconquered might.

Take the earth,

Make the earth


Stake the earth

Captive for God and right.

To stars we have hung our banners,

Our colors against the sky.

Together we’ll go girls;

Glory we’ll know, girls,

Daughters of Providence High.


We undetstand that the girls at Providence were involved in extra-curricular activities such as band, chorus, speech teams, debate teams, or any intramural sports (see below). We are looking for more Providence alums or friends of the school to contact us at the addresses listed below.

Joan Tutor Machala attended Providnce High School. She provided us with a copy of the school’s newspaper, “Twin Towers,” from 1955. It is quite apparent the Providence High School students were the benefactors of some well organized activities. Intramural sports included an annual basketball tournament for each class. Choir, plays, band, and many other activities provided many opportunities for the ladies of Providence High School to expand their horizons,

In addition, Mary Cagney tells us about her mother’s experiences: “My mother attended Providence from 1955-59. She lettered in both volleyball and basketball so the school offered sports at all levels. Then and now, the third floor gym is still a pain for visiting teams.”

Providence HS Field Trip to Washington DC, 1955
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Provided by Joan Tutor Machala

If you have information about Providence High School, we would be more than happy to accept it. Information such as school colors, nickname, and memories of Providence graduates are also appreciated!! Please send them to us via email or the USPS to the addresses listed below:

By e-mail:

By USPS:  Illinois High School Glory Days

                 6439 North Neva

                 Chicago, IL  60631

“TWIN TOWERS” School Newspaper of Dec 21,1954
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Courtesy of Joan Tutor Machala

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