The journey of the Dominican Sisters of Springfield, Illinois, to Chicago Heights began in 1873 when the Convent of St. Catherine of Siena in Siena Vale, Kentucky, sent six Sisters to Jacksonville, Illinois, to teach the large population of Irish immigrant children whose fathers were working on the railroad. What the Sisters thought would be a temporary assignment, became permanent a year later when they received direction from their superior to establish a completely new congregation, separate from the Kentucky Dominicans.
A combination of prayer, hard work, and angel benefactors enabled the growing congregation to establish its motherhouse in Springfield in 1893. Like all Dominican men and women, the Dominican Sisters of Springfield are committed to a common life of prayer, study, and preaching. In 1955, when the Sisters were asked to partner with the Archdiocese of Chicago to establish a new high school in the south Chicago suburbs, they accepted the challenge. Just a few years later, in 1958, Marian High School welcomed its first students.
Today, Marian Catholic’s mission continues to reflect the Dominican values on which the school was founded. It is a legacy members of the Marian Catholic community share with pride. We invite you to explore the history of Marian Catholic through the decades to learn more about our unique story.
Through the Decades
- In the fall of 1949, with the permission of Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago, Monsignor Croarkin spearheaded a building fund campaign to raise $500,000.
- Enthusiasm spilled into the purchase of 40 acres on the corner of Joe Orr Road and Ashland Avenue, the site of the old Chicago Heights Airport.
- Sufficient financial backing existed by 1951 to engage Raymond L. Ignelzi, a Chicago Heights architect, to draw up plans for a school building with the early name of Central Catholic.
- Ignelzi drew plans for a girls' school which would be temporarily co-educational, opening with a freshman class of boys and girls, and adding a class each year. Once the enrollment reached 900 students in a projected four years, a separate school for boys would be built on the adjoining 40 acres owned by the Archdiocese.
- In 1955, the Springfield Dominicans accepted the staffing and financial responsibilities for the new institution.
- On January 6, 1957, ground breaking took place for the original $1,400,000 building under the direction of Cardinal Stritch and the supervision of Monsignor Croarkin.
- Marian Catholic High School opened under the principalship of Sister Mary Mannes Kern, OP, in September of 1958, and with an inaugural class of 205 freshmen and a total staff of ten.
- Marian Catholic High School was dedicated on January 11, 1959 by Archbishop Albert G. Meyer.
- During the first three years of the school, enrollment exploded. In September of 1961, the premier class of 165 seniors welcomed 450 freshmen to a building which now included enlarged second and third wings, housing laboratories, and eleven classrooms.
- The Dominican Sisters' staff grew from six to eighteen; a convent and chapel for forty Sisters was added to the building.
- In just four years, the enrollment at Marian Catholic grew to 1,100 students, 300 more than had been projected. Although the original plan had called for the separate boys school to be built at this juncture, no school was built.
- Thus, Marian continued to be a co-educational school of 1,100 students housed in a building designed for 400 girls.
- By September of 1963, Marian Catholic had an enrollment of 1,200 and a teaching staff of 43, including 14 laymen and women.
- The first athletic director, Lee Albrecht, was a graduate of Michigan State; thus, Marian Catholic became known as the Spartans.
- By September 1966, when Sister Mary Antonette Feldhake, OP, assumed principalship of Marian Catholic, it became apparent that it would be impossible to obtain a community of men who would sponsor the boys high school.
- The Springfield Dominican Sisters' support of the new school had never wavered, and the feeling at Marian Catholic was that men and women could achieve academic excellence and live their faith together.
- Marian Catholic High School officially became the first truly coeducational high school in the Archdiocese of Chicago.
- In 1970, an agreement was reached between the Dominican Sisters and the Archdiocese of Chicago: if Marian Catholic, then with an enrollment of over 1,400, would remain a co-educational school, a $1,000,000 addition would be built through a Project Renewal Grant.
- Work began on the addition in the fall of 1971 that would end the use of the mobiles and provide for classrooms, band and choral rooms, a guidance area, and a theater.
- By September of 1972, Croarkin Theater was in use.
- During the summer of 1975, Sister Mary Alberta Lawless, OP, assumed the principalship of Marian Catholic with a student enrollment of 1,400 and a staff of 65. Her enlistment of a newly established Advisory Board proved a seed for growth.
- During the summer of 1979, the gymnasium and both boys' and girls' locker rooms were remodeled with monies raised by the students themselves.
- With an enrollment of more than 1,450 students Marian Catholic turned toward true physical expansion. Brejcha Architects of Homewood was chosen to design an addition to be funded by the Dominican Sisters.
- In the spring of 1983, ground was broken for a multi-phased program of expansion and renovation to provide for both building and ground improvements. Constructed by January of 1984, the building project gave Marian Catholic a two-room computer center, four new classrooms, expanded library and improved art and music facilities.
- The grounds work saw the enlargement of the parking area, the building of a school football field and track, and the improvement of athletic practice fields.
- In the summer of 1983, the 25th Anniversary of the opening of Marian Catholic, Sister Judith Anne Hasse, OP, became the fourth principal of Marian Catholic.
- The Silver Celebration of the school culminated in a Mass of Thanksgiving and the blessing of the new addition by Joseph Cardinal Bernardin.
- In September of 1984, the U.S. Department of Education recognized Marian Catholic as an Exemplary Private School in an award presented in Washington, D.C.
- During the 1985-1986 school year, Marian Catholic was accredited for the first time by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
- The new construction of Spartan Stadium allowed Marian Catholic High School to host many athletic events at home.
- Sister Mary Paul McCaughey, OP, a Marian Catholic graduate, became the fifth principal and first president of Marian Catholic in the summer of 1992.
- The Advisory Board develops a case statement for Marian Catholic and a $3.5 million capital campaign, Partnership 2000.
- The 1993 Marian Catholic football team wins the IHSA Class 4A State Championship for the first time in school history.
- The Dominican Sisters' gift of their chapel and part of the convent, allowed the renovation of the chapel for student use in 1994 and a new guidance and college center in the fall of 1995.
- Marian Catholic celebrated a second Blue Ribbon during the 1995-1996 school year and broke ground for a new band room and gymnasium in June 1996.
- The band room was blessed in June 1997, and the west gym in December 1997.
- Cardinal Bernardin formalized the gift of ten acres of land already in use for the band and new tennis courts.
- The endowment for student scholarships, begun in a modest way in the 1980s through the Golf Endowment Classic, increased tenfold.
- The fourth wing was gutted and science labs upgraded, including a new master science lab. Both the lab initiative and the addition of a new campus ministry center were completed in the fall of 1999.
- In 2000, wireless technology was incorporated into the fiber optic network, and Marian Catholic purchased the remaining original property from the Archdiocese allowing for the groundbreaking on four practice fields, a band practice area, softball field, fitness trail, and concession and storage buildings to be ready for full use in 2002.
- The summer of 2001 saw a change in Marian Catholic’s administrative structure as Sister Mary Joan Sorge, OP, began her tenure as the sixth principal of Marian Catholic, and Sr. M. Paul became the full-time president to serve Marian Catholic's 1,672 students and 134 staff members.
- On August 15, 2001, on the Marian Feast of the Assumption, Dominican Way, a $1.9 million, eight-classroom addition and teacher area, designed by Christopher O’Brien and built by Pepper Construction, was completed and would be dedicated by auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry on April 27, 2002.
- In 2002, the Marian Catholic community continued a commitment to excellence, earning recognition by U.S. News and World Report as a "top 100 high school" and embarking in an aggressive long-range planning process called “The Courage to Lead.”
- In 2004 Sister Kathleen Anne Tait, OP, was named principal.
- The construction of the 500 seat Marian Catholic Leadership Center began in 2006 and was blessed by chaplain Father William O'Mara on September 9, 2007.
- Also 2007 saw the addition of a science lab into the former area of the terrace café, the remodeling of the old cafeteria into a central study hall, and the reconfiguration of main office area for security and convenience.
- During the summer prior to Marian Catholic’s celebration of its 50th anniversary, Sister Mary Paul McCaughey, OP, ended her term of leadership to take over as Superintendent of Schools of the Archdiocese of Chicago. Sister Judine Hilbing, OP, became Marian Catholic’s second president in July of 2008.
- During the summer of 2008, a new artificial turf football field was installed in Spartan Stadium.
- Marian Catholic’s 50th anniversary year kicked off with a community celebration the weekend of September 5th and 6th. The celebration included alumni and faculty reunions, a family carnival in the Spartan Stadium, the blessing of Gierczyk Courtyard, and the donor wall for the Courage to Lead campaign, which concluded successfully with $6.3 million being donated. Evening festivities began with a Mass celebrated by Francis Cardinal George, OMI, and continued with dinner for all in the Leadership Center and tours of the campus.
- The 50th anniversary year was closed with a 50th Anniversary Gala at the School of the Art Institute ballroom, and the establishment of the Dominican Pillar Legacy Award. Sister Mary Paul McCaughey, OP, former president and principal, was honored by placing her name on the Marian Catholic Leadership Center.
- June 7, 2011, was a historic transition in the governance structure of Marian Catholic when the Board of Directors and the Member Board of the Dominican Sisters was officially established by proclamation of the Prioress General and Council of the Dominican Sisters.
- In 2011, the computer lab was renovated; and, in 2012, a sound stage was installed in the technology media center. Also in 2012, the library was refurbished and the Altman Memorial Garden was created.
- The Marian Catholic women's basketball team won the IHSA State Championship for the first time in school history during the 2012-2013 season.
- The Marian Catholic men's baseball team won the IHSA Class 3A State Championship for the first time in school history in 2012.
- In 2013, Marian Catholic upgraded its wireless infrastructure to support the iPad initiative. Students now had individual iPads which enhanced the learning environment by expanding the walls of the classroom. The 2013-2014 year saw Marian Catholic engage in a strategic plan called "2020 Vision."
- In 2014, Marian Catholic was recognized by St. James Health Care with the Franciscan Service Pillar Award. In July of 2014, Sister Kathleen Anne Tait, OP, ended her term as Principal to return to Springfield and began the role of Director of Mission Advancement for the Springfield Dominican Sisters. Mr. Steve Tortorello ‘04 became the first lay Principal beginning in the 2014-2015 school year.
- The Marian Catholic women's volleyball team won the IHSA Class 3A State Championship for the first time in school history in 2013.
- In July of 2016, Sister Judine Hilbing, OP, ended her term as President and assumed the role of Marian Catholic’s Director of Scholarships and Tuition Assistance, Mr. Vince Krydynski ’81, became the first lay President beginning in the 2016-2017 school year.
- Sixty years of Teaching Scholars with a Soul was celebrated throughout the 2018-2019 school year.
- Our celebratory year was highlighted with a special community Mass on December 12, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
- The 2018-2019 school year also saw the installation of The Legacy Wall in the Sr. M. Paul McCaughey Leadership Center to recognize and give thanks to all those who have sought the Truth and “set the world on fire” through the pulpit of their lives.