The History of St. Thomas Catholic School
Rockford (population: 155,000) s the second largest city in Illinois today, located in Northern Illinois. Rockford, first settled in 1834, grew very quickly due to the transportation on the Rock River and two railroads. As the city started to grow large, it needs to fit the educational wants of the youth of the city and private education was a growing aspect in Rockford. St. Thomas Catholic School opened it’s doors with the help of the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa, WI.
That was September of 1910 when 20 students (11 in classical courses, nine in commercial courses) were instructed. The first school building was located at the St. James Parish Hall. Two years later, the school moved into the old Ellis School building on West State Street and Stanley Avenue (see above). The first graduates in 1912 were Gertrude Conners, Helen Fackel, Helen Ford, Mildred Gaffrey and Mary Pagani.
From 1910 until 1929, St. Thomas was co-educational. The first edition of the school annual, Thomist, was first published in 1916, which was also the same year that an alumni association was formed. .
In the late 1920’s, plans were made to separate the boys and girls. A new St. Thomas school (boys) was built on Mulberry and State Streets in 1929. Bishop Muldoon (girls) was built not too far from St. Thomas that same year.
In 1959, ground was broken for a Central Catholic School, located north of town and construction was started in 1960 and ready for use in 1962. St. Thomas graduated 50 students in 1962.
George Fornero provided the following information on the history of Roncalli High School. The source for this information is the book That all May Be One: A History of the Rockford Diocese by Reverend Robert R. Miller. Copyright 1976; published by the Rockford Diocese. The enrollment information comes from the Official Catholic Directory.:
St. Thomas and Bishop Muldoon High Schools, Rockford IL
Muldoon High School began as St. Thomas High School in September 1910 at St. James School in Rockford. The school, co-ed in the beginning, was initially staffed by the Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters. The 1st class consisted of twenty (20) students; the next year there were seventy (70) students. The school was relocated from St. James Elementary School to the former Ellis School at the corner of State & Stanley Streets in Rockford in 1912. After some remodeling & expansion, classes began at the new location on November 9, 1912. To address the ever-growing enrollment, classes were held in the Knights of Columbus clubroom in the fall of 1920. Further over-crowding led to the purchase of the Coliseum on West State Street in 1921.
In 1929, separate schools were built for the boys and the girls. The boys attended the new St. Thomas High School on Mulberry Street and the girls attended the newly constructed Muldoon High School located at Stanley and Elm Streets. Cardinal Mundelein blessed the new high school on May 25, 1930. The Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters withdrew from Muldoon High School in 1933. They were replaced by the Adrian Dominican Sisters. Muldoon High School closed in 1970 & the students transferred to Boylan Central Catholic High School, also in Rockford. Enrollment at Muldoon was 300 under the direction of 14 Adrian Dominican Sisters and one (1) lay teacher during the 1963-64 school year. Enrollment during the 1966-67 school year was 335 under the direction of 13 Sisters and four (4) lay teachers.
Initially, the Christian Brothers operated St. Thomas High School for Boys from 1929 until 1933. In 1933, the Augustinian Fathers took over the operation of the school. (They relocated from Aurora where they operated Fox Valley High School which later became Marmion High School!) In an attempt to increase enrollment, the school changed its name to St. Thomas of Villanova Preparatory School for Boys in 1960. However, declining enrollment forced the school to close in 1962 and the students transferred to Boylan Central Catholic High School.”
Today, this school is known as Boylan Central Catholic High School and also took in students from Muldoon. The St. Thomas building is now the “Life Center”.
St. Thomas Catholic High School “Quick Facts”:
Year opened: 1910 (as co-educational)
Year of all-boys education: 1929
Year closed: 1962
School Colors: Purple & White
Nickname: the “Tommies”
Fight Song: “The Colors of St. Thomas High”
Sung to the ARMY Theme Song “When the Cassons Go Rolling Along”
Words provided by MICHAEL BURNS
We will fight, we will fight for the purple and the white,
For the colors of Saint Thomas High.
We will win, we will win and become Saint Thomas men,
For the colors of Saint Thomas High.
For it’s GO TEAM GO, to battle with the foe.
Fight on and never say die!
For it’s do your best and we will do the rest,
For the colors of Saint Thomas High.
Basketball, football, and baseball were offered at St. Thomas High School, but information as to hardware and trophies won is needed as well. St. Thomas was not a member of the Illinois High School Association.
Fr. Joe Brennan, a 1954 graduate of St. Thomas, played baseball and basketball for St. Thomas, and continued his baseball career for the University of Notre Dame.
The first basketball team was fielded in 1913-14. St. Thomas was competitive on the hardwood during its existance, especially in 1923-24 when they were invited to participate in the National Catholic Basketball Tournament at Loyola University. That year, the Tommies went undefeated on the year, posting a 16-0 record before falling in the first game of the National Tournament to Cincinatti St. Xavier.
1960-61 20 – 6
St. Thomas fielded their first football team in 1911, and won in their first game at Winnebago. The following records and research regarding the Rockford St. Thomas football program was completed by Tom Sikorski.
1953 6-2 Northeast Catholic Conference Champions Coach Lou Derango
1954 7-1 2nd place Northeast Catholic Conference Coach Lou Derango
1957 4-3-1 3rd place (tie) Shark Conference Coach Frank Amato
St Thomas last fielded a football team in 1960. Last win was 32-7 over Harlem.
**From Paul Marinaro
“I graduated from St Thomas in 1954. I remember Alex Gulotta. Al was probably the best athelete to come out of the school, He was a tremendous football player and was instrumental in our Championship team. Al was a gazelle on the basketball floor and quite a baseball player. I remember the flood that hit Lumbago tech, and Tony Rappa jumping out of the second story study hall window. Also have a lot of other fond memories. Lou DeRang was probably the best coach a guy could have. Imagine he did it all with no assistants, he coached football, baseball and track. Thanks for the memories.”
**From an anonymous St. Thomas Alum:
A few other interesting factoids about Rockford St. Thomas. It was run by Augustinian Brothers/Priests from Chicago, who took discipline very seriously and some of their methods are things of legend.
It was also known as the Academy on the Kent as it resided on the banks of Kent Creek. The gym was a separate building and one wall that paralled the creek leaned a good inch or two from the floor out. When we would be in gym class, too much running or dribbling of a basketball, led to small pieces of plaster coming down on you until the city finally condemened the building and it was torn down.
In addition, Frank “Chico” DeCastris, graduate of somewhere around 1961, also went on to pitch for the Cleveland Indians. St. Thomas, in the 50’s and early 60’s sponsored the St. Thomas Crusaders Drum & Bugle Corps, that was the forerunner to both the Purple Knights Drum and Bugle Corps and the Phantom Regiment Drum and Bugle Corps. The Phantom Regiment is still in operation today and is in fact currently if I’m not mistaken, the national champion, as determined by competition by Drum Corp International.
As you mentioned, it was the sister school to Rockford Muldoon also now closed. Muldoon did not offer any sports, and was run by Adrian Dominican Sisters back in the days when they wore the full nun’s habit. My sister graduated from there in the mid 50’s. When I was a young boy, the nuns always looked for volunteers to help clean the school in the summer and I got involved through my sister and was assigned to taking old draperies down. I managed to pull the lead weights that were sown into the botton from the old discarded draperies and took them home. A buddy and I started a big fire in the back yard, which was legal then, and made molds and melted the weights into sinkers for fishing. Today, it
would probably be considered an environmental hazard.
The mixers, or dances between Muldoon and St. Thomas were closely monitored by the nuns and the girls had to always have a minimum one inch strap on their dresses, and the nuns used to measure how far from the floor the hemline was and if it didn’t comply, the girl was sent home. They also walked the dance floor with a ruler measuring the distance to be maintained between the girl and boy when dancing a slow dance, honest. It was kind of like living the play, “Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up.” I think that is why the play was so popular, things like in the play really happened.
You bring back fond memories, thanks for doing all the work.”
From Michael Burns:
“I am a 1961 graduate of St. Thomas High School in Rockford, IL. Here is some additional information about the school:
1.) Regarding a post from an anonymous alum: Frank “Chico” DeCastris did graduate in 1961.
2.) The school colors were Purple and White. The nickname was the Tommies. The name of the school newspaper was the Tom Crier.
3.) The school song was sung to the US Army’s theme song (The one that begins, “Over hill, over dale, we will hit the dusty trail…..”). As near as I can remember, the words were:
“We will fight, we will fight for the purple and the white, for the colors of Saint Thomas High.”
“We will win, we will win and become Saint Thomas men, for the colors of Saint Thomas High.”
“For it’s go team go to battle with the foe. Fight on and never say die.”
“For it’s do your best and we will do the rest, for the colors of Saint Thomas High.”
4.) The name of the yearbook (at least during the 50’s and 60’s) was Tolle Lege (Latin for “take up to read”).
5.) The 1961 basketball team posted a 20-6 record, one of (if not) the best records by the Saint Thomas team.”
Seeking Further Information
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