The History of St. Luke School

  • Thirty-four years before there was a school, there was a church. In 1887, members of the Thatcher family sold a tract of their forest and farmland to the Catholic Bishop of Chicago. The land was located at Lake Street and what would someday become Lathrop Avenue. The price was $150. But it came with a stipulation: the land could only be used to build a church. And so, St. Luke Church came to be, with Rev. John Waldron as its resident pastor.

    In the 1870’s there were less than 50 houses in this area, but after the Chicago Fire, people began moving out of the city. By the 1900s, St. Luke Church was a focal point, serving the booming population of River Forest, Oak Park, Maywood and Melrose Park..

    In the fall of 1921, a single story U-shaped red brick building was erected, with six classrooms, an office and a playroom. It had a four-lane bowling alley in the basement, a playground in the courtyard, and the streetcar line outside on Lake Street..

    Archbishop George Mundelein dedicated St. Luke School on October 21, 1921 and placed it in the care of four Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters. This order continued to staff the school until the 1980s..

    In 1922, St. Luke School graduated its first class, a total of nine students, and this began a legacy of academic excellence centered in the Catholic Faith.

    During the Great Depression and World War II, many schools cut teachers and shortened the school year to save money. But St. Luke School did not, dedicated to the great value of providing its students with a strong Catholic education. By 1948, the congregation had grown tremendously and school enrollment was at 678 students.

    Alumni who attended classes in this original school building share many fond memories of the Dominican Sisters, Christmas plays, special programs on St. Thomas Aquinas Day, processions for church feast days, playing in the basement bowling alley, standing in line for Confession, and finding the drinking fountain barred by a chair to prevent breaking fast before Communion. On Lake Street, yellow streetcars passed by the few remaining cornfields and children enjoyed stopping in at the K&E Deli and grocery store for lunch. In the winter, horses from the livery stable of Bowman Dairy were used for sleigh rides.

    As the school population grew, this building grew too small. It was razed in 1954 and construction on the new building began. The present school building at 519 Ashland was dedicated by Cardinal Stritch on October 7, 1956 and was filled to capacity a few years later when enrollment peaked at 725 students.

    In 1966 under the leadership of Pastor Fr. John Fahey, St. Luke's first school board was organized. From then on, nominations and elections for the board became an annual parish event. In 1967, an all-school science fair was held for the first time, and participation in math contests and spelling bees challenged the students.

    Due to the declining number of Dominican Sisters in the 1970s and 80s, St. Luke School began employing lay teachers, and in 1985 it hired its first lay principal. With Sister Colleen Nolan, O.P, Director of Religious Education, our largely Catholic faculty is committed to excellence and the spiritual development of the whole child in the Catholic faith.

    St. Luke School is also well known for its superb extra-curricular activities - from altar serving to team sports. The Family and School Association (FSA) was formed in 1986 to organize school and social events, and those activities grow more popular every year.

    As the 21st century dawned, St. Luke School developed technologies, staff and teaching methods that set the pace. Equipment and furnishings in the school's science lab were updated and the computer lab and art room were completely renovated. In recent years, all the classrooms have been modernized with smart board technology.

    Most recently, the school reopened its thriving Kindergarten program (now an Early Childhood Program for ages 3 and up), which had been shuttered in 1963 due to low enrollment. And in 2008, under the criteria established by the Archdiocese of Chicago, Pastor Fr. Kenneth Fischer dissolved the school board and replaced it with the Board of Specified Jurisdiction. Members of the BSJ are appointed by the pastor and are comprised of parish members, school parents and other people in the community whose talents benefit the school.

    Catholic identity has always been closely entwined with our students' academics and we are committed to nurturing the whole child, spiritually and scholastically. When you talk with St. Luke alumni some of their fondest, deepest memories are for the yearly, traditional religious events that make St. Luke special, like the All Saints Day Mass, May Crowning, Catholic School's Week Mass and Veteran's Day Prayer Service. These Catholic traditions are integral to our school.

    Our strong, family-centered school community has a long history and legacy. A number of current students are from third and fourth generation St. Luke families who were taught in the original 6-classroom school. We believe the administration, faculty, parents and students share a responsibility to provide an excellent education centered on Christian love for neighbor. And ever since the first graduation class of nine students in 1921, St. Luke has prepared its students to succeed at the secondary level, to assume leadership roles, and to become ethically mature adults, capable of making Christian moral decisions in a secular society. Whether one's roots stretch back for many generations at St. Luke, or they’re just starting to grow in our fertile school environment, all are welcome in this place.