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.
St. Sebastian High School was opened as a co-ed school in St. Sebastian Parish in the fall of 1913 with a four-year academic course of study. Father Edmund Byrnes helped organize the school as well as the parish on the north side of Chicago in the Lakeview neighborhood.
With the Sisters of Charity in charge, the school graduated 15 students in the spring of 1917 for its first graduating class, with three more classes to follow before being closed in 1920 due to centralization of Catholic high schools by then-Cardinal George Mundelein. The school reopened in 1935 as two-year school, which later expanded to four years in 1940, when it was decided to become an all-girls’ school in the parish grade school building.
During its lifetime, St. Sebastian always had a small enrollment around 180 students, with its peak at 190 during the mid-1960’s. The school offered bi-lingual programs that served the Spanish-speaking students that came to Chicago from Puerto Rico and Cuba in the latter part of the 1950’s and early 1960’s, along with students that were diagnosed with behavioral problems.
The school was closed in the spring of 1979 after 23 students from a student body of 87 received their diplomas. The remaining students were assisted in transferring to either Immaculata, Madonna, and St. Benedict’s, all of which were nearby Catholic schools.
According to George Fornero’s dissertation about Catholic secondary schools in Chicago between 1955-1980, St. Sebastian closed due to small enrollment, increasing operating costs, inadequate facilities & equipment, lack of staff, as well as the dwindling number of teaching nuns. The school also suffered from a lack of students that lived near the school due to the neighborhood becoming more and more commercial.
Courtesy of Thomas McHale
FACTS ABOUT CHICAGO ST. SEBASTIAN HIGH SCHOOL
Year originally opened as co-ed school: 1913
First 4-yr graduates: 1917
Year first closed: 1920
Expanded to 4-yrs and girls’ only: 1940
Year closed: 1979
School colors: Maroon & Gold
School nickname: unknown
School song: “A St. Sebastian’s Girl Is Hard to Beat”
During our research, we were unable to find any information that would have told us what activities the girls at St. Sebastian participated in. It is reasonable to presume that they had band, chorus, drama, art, GAA, yearbook, and more. We would like to hear from an alumnae to tell us more.
From Nita Gibson Smith:
“My sister and I went to St. Sebastian High School in 1963-1964. I remember that the nuns were very strict. I also remember the day President Kennedy got shot. We were sitting in history class and an announcement came over the loud speaker. We all hurried over to the church to pray. I also remember that we had dance lessons as part of the music class. Its funny, but I still remember some of those steps.”
From Herta Abarr (class of 1963):
“St. Sebastian was a grade + high school….the high school took up the 2nd story of the red-bricked building. I attended 1956 and graduated 1963 from the high school. Father James Cloonan was the parish pastor. Father Johnson and Father Long were the assistants.
“…regretfully we did not have band, chorus, drama (except for one year and that Sister was transfered) no year book, no art programs, no extra-curricular activities….there was a Mother Seton Club, which ostensibly was organized to aid in the sanctification of Mother Elizabeth Seton, founder of the order of nuns who taught. We had a mimeographed school newspaper, but the powers that be canceled that the year we were seniors 1962-1963. There were no dances, nor inter school activities.
“Most of the girls had jobs after school as soon as they were 15 to help with school expenses. The neighborhood was in decline. There was a yearly “St. Patrick’s Day Play,” that lasted 3 evenings, which was a rather formidable program of music, song, dance, and drama. The dance teacher, who was the ‘gym ‘ teacher, taught us incredible dance choreography…we had no gym, just a giant auditorium with huge stage…..we were never allowed to walk on the floor with shoes to guarantee the perpetuity of the place.
“The classes offered were the minimum required by the state law, though the subjects that were taught (for the most part) contained the excellence of old fashioned learning. There were a few teachers who were way past retirement age and even somewhat demented. We had no young teachers until our senior year.
“The rule was absolute and autocratic, though as soon as we left the confines of the school, the uniform skirts were rolled up to meet fashion requirements in the real world. We had to wear BEANIES.
“Our class had 13 grads. Though the school was small, the comaradarie I experienced in another grade school, parish and school was missing, and post graduate contact was minimal…and not combined with school issues. Though school spirit was always preached, there was little if any actualization. We, as a class, held our own reunions, we were never contacted by the church or school for any reunion activities. I think 6 of us were found as we celebrated 40 years.
“Though we had little if any of the ‘usual’ high school adventures, sports, or activities, it seems that those of us who are in contact all possess a set of values, and life approach that is unique. One of our class has passed away. I am in contact with one person in the class that graduated ahead of us….they are not in contact with one another either….it is as if it never were.”
from St. Sebastian GS grad Robert Weisskopf (courtesy of Mike Kessler):
“I grew up at 845 W. Oakdale in Chicago. That’s half a block from Illinois Masonic Hospital, and went to St. Sebastian’s at the corner of Wellington and Halsted. It is now torn down and Illinois Masonic has their office building there. I then went to St. Ignatius College Prep and graduated in 1974. From there it was on to St. Mary’s College in Winona, MN, for three years. I finished college in 2 1/2 years. Joined CPD (Chicago Police Department) on 14th February in 1983. Now that I retired, I write!”
From Kathy Lifka (former teacher, 1977-79):
“I ran across your website about closed schools, and St. Sebastian was one of those schools. My first teaching job was at St. Sebastian from 1977-1979 when the high school closed. There were 120 girls with eight teachers, I believe. I have forgotten most names, but here is what I remember.
“Michael Wierzbicki was principal at that time. He was a fair, but firm leader. I later ran into him at the Joliet Diocese where he was Assistant Superintendent of Personnel. He is now retired. I believe we had two Sisters of Charity. One was around 60, and the other was around 30. The younger one left in the fall of my second year for personal reasons. I taught 9th-12th grade English and two history classes. I remember I had very few materials, and had to find my own resources wherever I could. I also began a newspaper which we printed on the mimeo machine. Of course, the “news” was pretty well known among the girls already, but they loved it.
“If I remember correctly, there were gang problems in Chicago, and we had one girl bring in a knife. We had other minor arguments, but overall, the girls were pretty sheltered. We would have dances once or twice a year, and the girls were allowed to bring dates. They would basically do a two-step shuffle for the slow dances.
“The teachers I remember include Janice Bloomfield and Rita Favorite Blickenstaff. I can “see” the science teacher and the one male teacher we had, but I cannot remember their names. We taught English/reading, history, science, math, and religion. The girls were from various cultures, and only a few went onto college. One of my freshmen was already a mother of two living with her boyfriend while attending school; I believe she was 15 at the time. I remember the first grade teacher was Emily Peacock (1932-2009) of the Peacock family of jewelers. She truly loved teaching, and she was very unassuming.
“I also taught at Maria High School at 67th and California from 1996-2003. Both schools were very dear to me. This is not much, I am sorry. It is nice to know that St. Sebastian will be remembered.”
from Mema Kathy:
“I attended St. Sebastian High School from 1964 to 1968. Sr. Raphael was the principal.”
from Shirley Barnett Bays:
“I attended St. Sebastian High School and graduated in 1965 with a class of 33.
“Father Clooney as the paster, and Sister Raphael was the principal. The tuition was $75 a year, and it went up my senior year to $100. We were taught by the Sisters of Charity, founded by St. Elizabeth Seton. All our teachers were nuns, until my senior year. Then we had two lay teachers, one of which was from India.
“The uniforms we wore for the first two years were a navy suit and the last two years was a pleated skirt with a gray vest. Everyone was friendly, and my best friend was Sondra Stewart, who died of cancer.
“I remember we only had one electric typewriter. During the steno class, we heard the news about Kennedy’s death. The gym teacher taught daily routines for each grade.
“We had a St. Patrick’s play where each class performed their dance. The play was written by the seniors and all grades participated in it. It was the yearly fundraiser for the school.
“We had one school reunion about five years later, where we learned what everyone had done with their lives. I had become a computer programmer analyst with Sears and Trust Bank, then I went to work for Old Republic Insurance.”
WE NEED ALL THE HELP WE CAN GET….
….from anyone (alumnae and friends) that may have information about the history of St. Sebastian High School in Chicago. Facts, memories, names of notable alumnae, and photos are welcome for submission in order for us to keep the school alive. Please email your information to email@example.com or send it to the following address.
Illinois High School Glory Days
6439 North Neva
Chicago, IL 60631
Chicago St. Sebastian Church History
Courtesy of Thomas McHale
Courtesy of Thomas McHale
Courtesy of Thomas McHale
Courtesy of Thomas McHale (relative to McHale and Lamey above)