Monday, March 2, 2015

St. Ignatius College Prep
 by: chicago designslinger

 [St. Ignatius College Prep (1869) Toussaint Menard, architect; (1874) addition, Joseph P. Huber, architect /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In the spring of this year the Cardinals of the Roman Catholic church elected a new leader. The electors elevated one of their own to become their Supreme Pontiff, aka Pontifex Maximus, a religious leadership title borrowed from the pagan worshipping Romans of antiquity. Apparently the elevation was a surprising move given that the new pope was a Jesuit, a member of the Society of Jesus a Catholic religious order that frowns on its associates seeking higher office. But when Jorge Mario Bergoglio's name was announced after a short balloting session, he and his red-capped collegial fellows felt that this what what they'd been directed to do by a higher power and so the reign of Pope Francis I, 266th Vicar of Christ began.

  [St. Ignatius College Prep, 1076 W. Roosevelt Road, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Chicago's relationship with the Jesuits goes all the way back to September, 1673 when two Frenchmen from Canada found themselves at the mouth of a river that flowed into "Lac des Illinois," later Lake Michigan. Father Jacques Marquette and his travelling companion Louis Jolliet were sent by Louis XIV's Canadian ministers to find this great river that the Native Americans had been talking about. According to the indigenous people a river connected the Great Lakes to the mighty Mississippi, and if true, the trade route could be a financial windfall for the king and his ministers. The Jesuit missionary and the fur trading explorer were forever after recorded in the history books as the first people of European descent to set foot in the place that eventually became Chicago.

  [St. Ignatius College Prep, National Register of Historic Places, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In 1856 the recently appointed Roman Catholic Bishop of Chicago Anthony O'Regan invited the Jesuits to return to the spot where Marquette had momentarily parked his canoe 180 years before and establish a foothold in the fast developing city. The following year the Saint Louis based order sent Father Arnold Damen, who declined O'Regan's offer to take over Holy Name parish and instead elected to start his own parish and mission on the outskirts of town. When Damen selected a site at the intersection of Roosevelt Road and Blue Island Avenue, Roosevelt was known as 12th, Blue Island was called Hoosier, and it was in the middle of nowhere. Ten years later the sparsely populated area was humming with activity and Damen decided the time had come to construct a school building dedicated to the educating the young men of Holy Family parish beyond the grade school level. He was given permission to start the school with the proviso that no parish funds be used. So Damen headed-out on a cross country, fund-raising, missionary trek in the hopes that he could raise enough money to start an educational institution of higher learning in Chicago, which would be named in honor of the founder of the Society of Jesus, St. Ignatius of Loyola.

  [St. Ignatius College Prep, City of Chicago Landmark/Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Damen was a money raising machine, and the cornerstone for St. Ignatius College was laid in 1868. The industrious Jesuit had secured the services of architect Toussaint Menard a Chicagoan of French Canadian descent, bringing even more of the Marquette connection full circle. When the Second Empire building opened for classes in September, 1870 the structure plan was L-shaped with the horizontal stem of the L facing West 12th Street, and the vertical line running north. In 1874, with an expanding student population, architect Joseph Huber was brought in to build a western addition along 12th Street, creating a structure that now formed a "T." The St. Ignatius College was not the kind of college we think of today. In the 1870s most children in the laboring classes of immigrant Catholic households didn't attend school, and if they did, they rarely went beyond the 5th grade. St. Ignatius was a combination of what we would consider a high school with college level courses offered for advanced students. No matter the grade level, the curriculum was very rigorous and not for the faint-of-heart. In 1909, St. Igantius the school established St. Ignatius the parish on the north side of Chicago on the southern edge of the Rogers Park neighborhood. Then in 1922 St. Ignatius College became part and parcel of the Jesuits Rogers Park campus at Loyola University, and the school on Roosevelt Road became a college preparatory institution. Over time the neighborhood around St. Ignatius school went through its ups and downs, and the Jesuits simply sat out the changes while continuing to provide one of the best educations the city had to offer. Today the school is thriving, with as much of a brain challenging and rigorous curriculum as Father Damen first offered to those nimble-minded young men in 1870.

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