Providence High School, Joliet & New Lenox, Illinois
History of Providence High School
The history of Providence High School is rather interesting. From its beginning in Joliet, through its temporary closing during the Great Depression, the condemnation of the building in 1959, the new foundation in New Lenox in 1962, the crisis in 1971, the turnaround under Father Kaffer, the building period, the transition to the Augustinians, the expansion in academic programs and in student enrollment, the growth of its reputation and its athletic success – all these things have contributed to that spirit which makes Providence Great.
On Sept. 8, 1880, a religious order of sisters known as The Ladies of Loretto, opened a commercial and finishing school for girls called St. Mary Academy. The school was located in Joliet. St. Mary Academy was completed and dedicated on Aug. 16, 1883.
In 1918, the Sisters of Providence were asked by the diocese to run the school of 59 students. On Oct. 22, 1918, the name of the high school was officially changed to Providence High School. The first graduating class consisted of six members, while eight received certificates from the commercial class. The academic department of the high school was closed in 1931 at the height of the Great Depression, although there were 120 graduates that year. Because of the economic problems, those directing the school decided in 1932 to change the school from a four-year general high school to a two-year commercial school. A four-year secretarial course was initiated in 1938.
By 1959, the old high school building had to be abandoned because it was condemned as unsafe by the Joliet Fire Department. From 1959 to 1962, the school was temporarily located at St. Mary Nativity Parish. Providence High School shared the building with St. Mary Nativity elementary school. When the old building was demolished, it is said that students sifted through the wreckage looking for bricks that were not crushed. They wrapped the bricks and sold them as souvenirs to help build the new Providence. In 1962, the new Providence High School was built in New Lenox as a co-institutional school. It was built for a capacity of 800. In 1966, the first co-institutional class graduated from Providence.
By 1969, however, financial problems threatened to close Providence. The number of students was shrinking while the costs of education were raising. The Save Our School struggle appeared in the Chicago Daily News on Thursday, Nov. 21, 1968, when students raised the first $30,000 selling 25-cent chances. In that year, 557 students at Providence had helped save a 6-year-old school from extinction. Father Roger Kaffer was appointed in 1970. Father Kaffer immediately began to improve the academic programs and initiated a bussing plan to increase enrollment. In 1971, the total school enrollment was 490. In the year 1975-76, there was a total school population of 785. Between 1974 and 1985, several building additions were constructed due to the increased enrollment.
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