Chicago Willibrord Catholic H. S. “Warriors”

Willibrord Catholic High School
A building with trees in front of it

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Courtesy of “A History of Offices, Agencies, and Institutions in the Archdiocese of Chicago”

               The History of Chicago Willibrord Catholic High School

Chicago (population 2.8 million) is in northeastern Illinois along the shores of Lake Michigan. Without question, the third largest city in the United States has been described as a melting pot of all cultures, showing great diversity to the number of cultures and religions that are in the city.

Willibrord Catholic began its life as a two-year high school in the Roseland neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side in 1940, becoming a four-year institution in 1942. The name of the school came from St. Willibrord, a Catholic archbishop from Ireland that was a spiritual leader of the Franks during the 7th and 8th Centuries prior to King Charlemagne’s rule. The school was either called St. Willibrord or Willibrord Catholic during its lifetime, and was joined by a church and grade school of the same name. More information about St. Willibrord can be found at this website:

The school operated under the auspices of the Archdiocese of Chicago until the spring of 1988 when it merged with an all-girls’ school, Unity (which had been only opened eight years earlier as the result of another merger with four parochial schools that were all-girls), and Mendel Catholic to form St. Martin de Porres High School. Unfortunately, that school also closed its doors in 1997.


Year it opened as a two-year school:       1940

Year expanded to a four-year school:      1942

Year closed:                                              1988

School it merged into:                              St. Martin de Porres

School colors:                                           Navy Blue and Columbia Blue

School nickname:                                     Warriors

School song:                                            “Willy High Loyalty”

Courtesy of MARGE HORNIG

                                                     Willy’s High we’re loyal to thee

                                                     To our standards true we will always be

                                                     Firm and strong and united are we

                                                     With a yoo rah rah

                                                     Willy’s High

                                                     Rah Rah Willy’s High

                                                     Rah for the good ol’ team

ATHLETICSThe Warriors competed in boys’ basketball, baseball, and possibly track. The Lady Warriors competed in basketball, softball, tennis, and soccer. If you have information about conference affiliations, and which sports and activities were offered at the school, please contact us.

According to the IHSA website (, the only hardware ever won by the Warriors was in boys’ basketball as Willibrord won a Class A Regional in 1979. Rich Erickson’s team was 9-19 that season and was defeated in the Herscher Sectional by the eventual state champion, New Lenox Providence.Willibrord played their home games at Mendel Catholic High School, according to 1979 graduate Ricky Johnson.

The Warriors also scored a school-record 137 points on February 18th, 1973 as Willibrord Catholic won over St. Mary of Perpetual Help 137-54 in a game that saw Willibrord connect on 63 field goals, one of the best single-game totals for team field goals in the IHSA record book.


As stated above, the boys of 1978-79 won a Regional Championship, the only one in the school’s history.  Any further infomation on this or any other Warrior team is welcome.

1978-79    9 – 19        Regional Champions        Coach Rich Erickson


William Napier tells us St. Willy’s had football, at least in the late 1940s for sure.  If you have any other information regarding the St. Willibrord HS football program, please drop us a line.

1948             Coach Steve Kristian


From Grathell Poage (Class of 1979):

“I attended Willibrord Catholic HS and we did have women’s sports. We had ladies basketball, softball, tennis, and soccer. Also, the baseball team fielded some very excellent players such as myself, Henry Martin, George Winters, Todd and Tracy Jackson. I am proud to have been associated with the Warrior tradition.”

From Dan Mathys:

“Ever watch the movie Polar Express?  Robert Zemeckis (Alum of St. Willibrord’s) directed it. The little poor boy’s house address was the same as Robert’s. He graduated around 1971.”  (NOTE: An in-depth interview with Zemeckis can be found by clicking on this link:

From Pat (Giblin) Russell (Class of 1956):

“How fondly I remember “Willy’s.” I graduated from there in 1956. Fr. Exler was our principal as well as the dearest priest I have ever met. A lot of our graduates still stay in touch (over 50 years since we graduated). We were in the choir and I remember basketball games which at times were quite dangerous. Opposing teams would “rock” our buses.

“Sister Virginette was the cooking/sewing teacher who used to check the girls’ dresses on prom night and if they weren’t “proper”, she would escort the girl(s) to her sewing room where she would tape the dress to the skin or find other ways to make sure we were “decent.” She flunked my cooking class (4) of us per table) for one semester because I left the pot on the frozen peas as they were cooking. My close friends (5 of us) enjoyed classes so much that the nuns tried very hard to make sure no two of us were in the same class. We had a lot of laughs. The lunch menu was 10 cents per day and the warm food was excellent.

“We have fond memories of St. Willy’s and I have met two ladies out here (California and Las Vegas) who went there, earlier than I  did. My brother went there for the first two years, then the family moved to California.

“Those were the days!”

From William Napier:

“I attended in 1948 to 1950. Did not graduate but came close. We had a football team. It was started in 1948 and coached by Steve Kristian (I may be misspelling the name). We practiced in Palmer Park and never won a game. I was perhaps the worst athlete in the history of Chicago prep sports but at St. Willys, that was no detriment.

“Mine would have been a class at Willy’s that included Robert Ward, a very special person. He died three years ago soon after celebrating his fiftieth year as a Order of the Oblates priest. A younger brother by two or three years is also an Oblate. I last heard of him being stationed in south Texas somewhere.”

From Mary Galusha (class of 1970):

“Great memories, just looking at that ancient building. I attended from 1966-1970 and still have all four yearbooks. I remember the old, dilapidated wooden floors (at least on the first floor) and the even older desks.

“The nuns used to guard the Exit doors so students couldn’t sneak out to the back alley during recess for a smoke. We had Sister Thomas Aquin (we called her T.A.) who would stop you dead in the halls if you were chewing gum and demand $1.00 – like anyone was actually carrying cash with them! She also would have the girls who had mysteriously short pleated uniform skirts (we rolled them up at the waists under the blazers) knell down on the bare hall floor, and if the skirt didn’t reach the floor, also demand money. She had a rather unsettling lopsided limp, so of course we speculated that she had a wooden pirate leg.

“Sister St. Phillip headed up Glee Club, Sister Mary Beth taught Algebra & Geometry. The annual Latin Banquet (can you say Toga?) was always looked forward to, except that it was held in the cafeteria with the lights dimmed, under strict supervision of course. Because it was a three-story building, with tons of stairs, we sold fake “elevator passes” to the unwary incoming freshmen every year. The school gym had been converted to a Study Hall with lockers, so our gym class consisted of walking in all weather down to Palmer Park’s rec center to participate in “Marching Class” whereby 20 or so students marched around in formation to music in preparation for the Gym Show every year.

“Of course, the REAL highlight of the study hall/”gym” was that the dances (with live local bands like the Blue Royals?!) were held there. The nuns would go up to couples slow dancing and push them apart if they were dancing too close. The rest of the school halls were closed off during the dances with locking floor to ceiling gates in case couples wandered off down a dark hall, or possible vandalism, I guess.

“But here’s a factoid that kind of put St. Willibrord’s on the map of Chicago sometime around 1968-1969: There was a promotional radio-sponsored contest (WLS or WCFL) that partnered with one of the popular cough drop companies at the time – maybe Smith Brothers Cough Drops? The contest was that whatever Chicago high school would send in the most slips of paper (compared to # of kids in the school) with Smith Brothers Cough Drops written on them, would win an on-site concert with Baby Huey and The Babysitters as the starting lineup, and Tommy James and the Shondells as the main entertainment.

“Well, we wrote like crazy during all our classes and won the concert. I emailed Tommy James not long ago to see if he’d remembered it at all, but no response. Probably couldn’t admit that he had done such a small gig??? But it was great. Baby Huey passed away in 1970, not long after that.

“What a GREAT four years it was.”

From “ajgjw:”

“(The school) was not a member of IHSA till I believe 1975, played in the Mayor Daley Christmas Classic at Navy Pier in 1972, and lost to Public League powerhouse Crane Tech 133-30 (made the Larry Lujack “Cream of the Week”). (We) were coached by Mario Valente in basketball and baseball since the late ’50s until 1975.

“Jacques Christeans (the maintenance man) began a soccer team in the late ’60s and played their home games at Kensington Park. All of their basketball games were played at Turner Hall on Indiana Avenue.

“I believe the name of the league they were in was the Catholic Prep along with St. Gregory, St. Benedict, Cathedral, St. Michael’s, and other schools from Chicago.”

from Bob S. (dated 4/1/2019):

“Hi! Stumbled on the site. What great memories. Went to the Friday night dances 1959-1962 or so. I was a Rosemoor kid stuck going to Harlan HS instead of Fenger. I built a social life with my Catholic friends from St. Willy’s and Mendel.

“(I) Recall fondly the dances in the gym with the jukebox. Always trying to go the washroom for a smoke. The “bouncer” was smart and figured if two guys were going to the “john” that they would be going for a smoke. Gals in twos, yes; guys never unless they wanted to puff.

“First kiss was with a gal named Kathy W. after a dance. What memories! Would love to hear from my old contemporaries.”

from Mary Sullivan-Pondell (dated 5/1/2023):

I think it was in the very early 80’s that I spent 2 yrs. at Willibrord as librarian. I lived in South Holland, so it was a fairly long drive. How well I recall both priests having lovely plants both indoors and outdoors. I was jealous. There were several sisters living across the street in the convent; they also taught. Sister Virginia (?) would collect all the bananas (that) students did not want to eat for lunch, and I think she made banana nut bread. Jacques (from Belgium?) coached soccer with one of the teachers.

“There was a very tall math teacher, a red-haired male art teacher, and blind history teacher. I drove him home to South Holland every day; his father would have brought him in the morning. I remember Dorothy Ward and her brother from the very large family and Dorothy’s pal who was going to go to the college in Wisc. that the priests’ order had. I left there to move onto Leo High School on Sangamon.”

from Denis Smith (dated 8/8/2023):

“St. Willibrord was a member of the Illini Five Conference, along with St. Mary of Perpetual Help; Ida Crown Jewish Academy; Cathedral High, Roycemore & Parker Academy.”


If you have information that we could use to highlight the history of Willibrord Catholic High School, please write to us by email or at the address below. We are looking for photos of the school, its teams, and prominent individuals. You can contact us at or at:

Illinois High School Glory Days

6439 N. Neva

Chicago, IL  60631

Chicago Willibrord Catholic High School Building
A large brick building

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Courtesy of Mary Coogan

  1. OMG! I graduated Willys in 1955 and recently was trying to find some of my classmates who were the “nerds” like myself. We called ourselves the outlaws because we were not cheerleaders or salutitorian material, just nerds. Katy Beemster, Elaine Barta, Nancy Coyle Ruth Schrader etc. Loved those friends!
    Barbara (Wilson) Poff class of 55

    1. I graduated from St. Willy;s in 1958 so I doubt we would remember one another but my older brother Bob Hill graduated from St. Willy’s in 1955 so you must have known him. Barry Hill

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