High School in East St. Louis had a short and somewhat obscure life that
extended from September, 1949, to June, 1953, yet its story narrates a beautiful
legacy of faith and fortitude well worth repeating.
Nation’s Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s, our Nation suffered from the
cancer of racism. Given its somewhat southern location, in East
St. Louis, many opportunities, including educational ones, were unjustly
withheld from the African-American community.
1893, four Sisters from the Springfield, Illinois, Dominican Convent had arrived
to open the elementary school in Saint Mary Parish in East St. Louis.
The Sisters operated this parish grade school for decades during which
the neighborhood experienced various changes gradually. In 1937,
these Dominican Sisters were asked also to assume responsibility for the
neighboring Saint Augustine Catholic Mission School, which had been established
some years earlier by another Order of nuns to care for the African-American
community, whose members experienced incredible difficulties in finding a
welcome in many other places. Saint Augustine Church was pastored
by a religious Order of priests called the Society for the African Missions, a
community of Catholic priests who devoted their lives entirely to the pastoral
care of the Continent of Africa and the African-American community
children experienced great difficulty finding admission to local high schools at
that time. As a result, in order to provide for their children as
well as possible in difficult circumstances, the Dominican Sisters, who were
devoted to their students, developed the unofficial custom of allowing their
8th Grade graduates to continue attending the 8th Grade at
Saint Augustine for a second year, providing them with as much advanced
education as they could.
the enrollment at the original Saint Mary’s School had dwindled so dramatically
that the decision was made to close the school. That meant that an
empty Catholic school building would be in the vicinity. Father
Harrington, the pastor of Saint Augustine’s, and Mother Imelda, the Mother
Superior of the Order of the Springfield Dominican Sisters agreed to open a real
high school for the graduates of Saint Augustine’s in the abandoned Saint Mary’s
building. Thus, Saint Mary’s High School came into
Mary’s High School opened in the fall of 1949 with Sister Monica Finnegan as
Principal, and a faculty consisting of Sister Michael Marie Deany, Sister Mary
Isnard Marron and Father Benedict Burke, of the Order of the African Mission
Fathers. The Dominican Sisters were extraordinary educators who
operated a vast network of excellent grade and highs schools throughout the
State and beyond and Saint Mary’s faculty was drawn from the ranks of that
supportive and intimate school environment flourished in that school for four
years and despite short funds, the school became remarkable for the fine
education it provided its students and its strong caring environment.
The only reason Saint Mary’s High School closed was because in 1953, the
local Catholic bishop declared that segregation would not be tolerated in any
Catholic institution, and the way was paved for African-American students to
enroll in the other local Catholic high schools that had emerged by that time,
all of which enjoyed better facilities and were more financially secure.
Even though this meant that Saint Mary’s students would enroll in schools
with better accommodations and more opportunities, the small school closed its
doors with much sadness.
the closure of Saint Mary’s High School, the building was occupied as an
elementary school once again to serve the totally American-African neighborhood
from Saint Augustine’s and Saint Mary’s parishes, under the name Saint Mary
School. Saint Mary’s Grade School and the Dominican Sisters
continue to serve the children of the neighborhood until 1964 when the
construction of Interstate 70 ploughed right through the land on which Saint
Mary’s once stood."
East St. Louis St. Mary High School Quick Facts
Year GS classes begun: 1893
Year HS classes begun: 1949
Year HS closed:
Year GS closed: 1964
School Team Nickname: unknown if sports offered