Chicago St. Mary of the Lake High School

St. Mary of the Lake
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courtesy of “A History of the Offices, Agencies, & Institutions of the Archdiocese of Chicago”

The History of Chicago St. Mary of the Lake High School

Chicago (population: 2.8 million) is located along the shores of Lake Michigan in northeastern Illinois. From its early days as a Potawatomie settlement, then as the site of Fort Dearborn in 1803, which led up to the formation of the city and its incorporation in 1833 and 1837, respectively, the “City of Big Shoulders” became a major location in the US for various reasons. Railroads and water transportation were two reasons why Chicago was one of the fastest growing cities in the country during the 19th Century.

Today, numerous railroads and highways of interstate, US, state, and local designations bring people together in the city on a daily basis, as does air traffic at O’Hare and Midway Airports. Chicago is a melting pot of people from many nationalities, making it ethnically diverse, and thus is referred to as “the financial, economic, and cultural capital of the Midwest (according to Wikipedia).”

St. Mary of the Lake opened as a mens’ college on June 3rd, 1844 and became the first institution of higher education in Chicago incorporated as a university on December 19th of the same year. The first bishop of Chicago, William Quarter, was proud of the school and realized it would need more space, and took a trip to the Eastern United States to raise money for a new facility that would open July 4th, 1846.

Bishop Quarter passed away in April 1848, and was succeeded by Bishop James Van de Velde, who also took an interest in the high standards that were already in place. But Van de Velde found himself in locked in a difference of opinion of how the school should be run with priests from Holy Name Parish (who were connected to it). The parish priests were threatened with removal from the school, to be replaced by the Congregation of the Holy Cross, which declined a subsequent offer.

Van de Velde’s health was also failing, and was replaced by Anthony O’Regan in 1853. Bishop O’Regan oversaw the changing of the religious orders in 1856 when the Holy Cross accepted an offer to take over the school with an annual rent of $2,100.00. The new order requested that the school’s curriculum be changed from that of a university (which it was chartered as in 1844) and become an all-boys’ high school, which the new bishop agreed to. When the school opened in September 1856, 35 students were enrolled. That number would grow to 120 within three years.

As the school’s numbers were going up, Anthony Duggan replaced O’Regan as the bishop in 1859. Just like Van de Velde, Duggan was in the middle of a firestorm with the head of the Holy Cross congregation, who wanted more money to build an addition to the school plus make some improvements. The Holy Cross fathers left Chicago in 1861, but the school stayed open. A new dormitory was erected in 1863, as sons of German immigrants were recruited for the school.

Despite the efforts, the school closed in 1866 due to financial distress. However, the school reopened in 1921 under the original 1844 charter as George Cardinal Mundelein requested having a seminary for future Archdiocese priests. Today, the school is known as St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary, to show its two-fold purpose to educate and train young men for the priesthood.


Year first opened (as a college):            1844

Year high school opened:                     1858

Year school closed down:                     1866

Reopened under original charter:           1921

Now known as:                                    St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary


that St. Mary of the Lake was an all-boys’ high school, but we would gladly accept any information that may be found about the school during its’ short time. Please email your submission to or send it via the postal route to:


6439 North Neva

Chicago, IL  60631

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