St. Jerome's School



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By 1922, the debt on St. Jerome Church was paid. A larger church on 28th and Princeton Ave. was purchased. The parish was growing and its pastor, Fr.Vjenceslav Vukonic O.F.M., saw the need for a parish school. The newly arrived Croatian immigrants had been strong advocates of a parish school; the school was the means by which the Catholic faith and Croatian language and culture could be preserved.

The Adorers of the Blood of Christ were called to work among the Croatian Schools in America. In 1906, Bosnian Adorers and Croatian immigrants were brought together by Divine Providence. These sisters arrived from the Banja Luka province and later established a province in Columbia, Pa. This province would supply the teaching sisters for many Croatian schools. Sisters were vital to the ethnic parishes: cultural transmission was indangered without schools.

In the summer of 1922, the sisters arrived to teach in St. Jerome's School. This was a great day for Sister Xavier, Aloysia and Mary Benedict. Sr. Aloysia was chosen for domestic work. Sr. Benedict was to teach grades 1 and 2. Sr. Xavier was to teach grades 3 and 4. Sr. Benedict recalled grades 1 and 2 numbering 102 children. The school opened with over 200 students. By 1924, because of the large enrollment, four more classrooms were added to the school. The first graduation at St. Jerome took place in 1927 with 13 graduates.

During the worst years of the depression, (1930's) with a 90% unemployment rate at St. Jerome's, the parish struggled to keep the school open. The sisters, while teaching, attended night school at DePaul University. They also took care of the choir, sacristy, altar boys and children's societies. For some sisters it took as long as 20 years to earn their degree. The sisters, so in tune with the needs of their people, published in 1929 the first Croatian hymnal (Kralju Vijekova) in America. This hymnal is still used today in many Croatian parishes.

The early Croatian immigrants loved the sisters and wanted their daughters to enter the community, believing they would be serving God and helping their own people. The work of the sisters was blessed because a number of girls from the parish entered their order: Sr. Martha Vuco, Sr. Geraldine Gusich, Sr. Eugene Bojich, Sr. Imelda Velcich, Sr. Loretta Bozich, Sr. Irene Jelacich, Sr. Beata Sablich, and Sr. Bernadine Condich.

Over the years the school continued to grow. A kindergarten was added. The number of children enrolled in the school varied through the years. The largest enrollment was during the 1953-54 school year, with 583 children. The largest graduation class was in 1956, with 73 graduates. The number of students who graduated from St. Jerome School, since 1927, is over 2200. The forties and fifties were truly the golden age of Catholic education. The keynote of the postwar era was "Catholic Schools for Catholic Children."

Aside from teaching the 3R's, the school kept alive the Croatian Heritage of the parish. Croatian language and culture were part of everyday curriculum. Students were taught to read, write, pray and sing in Croatian. The Croatian Primer (Citanka) was a necessary book for all students. By the late 1950's, the Croatian language was dropped from the curriculum. Still, the singing of patriotic and religious Croatian songs remained. For years, students represented Croatia in song and dance at the Museum of Science and Industry for the "Christmas Around the World" exhibition.

After many years it was quite evident that the old school had served its purpose. It became inadequate, obsolete and dangerous for the students. A new school had to be built as the best answer for the future welfare of the parish and its children. In May 1960, permission was given to Fr. Vitomir Naletelic to build a new school. Fox and Fox were chosen as architects. Plans were drawn. The school was to stand in place of the old parish hall. Ground-breaking ceremonies were held on September 18, 1960. Construction was begun. The new school was completed in May of 1961. The new school contained a parish social center. On September 24, 1961, His Eminence Albert Cardinal Meyer blessed the new school. In 1975, the social center was enlarged and a modern new kitchen was added to the building.

The year of 1998, saw St. Jerome's School celebrating its Diamond Jubilee. It is a culmination of seventy-five years of extremely hard work, dedication and sacrifice. The school is a monument to the parishioners and alumni who sacrificed energy and money for the love of St. Jerome. The 1998 school reunion drew over 750 alumni attesting to their dedication and love for St. Jerome. Proud is St. Jerome of its alumni who have filled many important stations in life. Numerous religious, doctors, lawyers, architects and public servants have passed through its doors. Among today's most notable are: Il. State Supreme Court Justice Michael A. Blandic and Niles, Il. Mayor Nicholas Blase. Many second and third generation students are now attending St. Jerome.

Today, the school is a modern building with eight classrooms, a computer room, a kindergarten and a preschool. Three great factors contribute to the success of St. Jerome: 1) the zeal of the hierarchy in Chicago; 2) the willingness and sacrifices of the clergy, religious and lay teachers; 3) the charity and work of the parishioners. The elementary school remains a vital part of the parish.

Vision for the future includes:

  • Internet wiring of every classroom including preschool
  • Academic partnership programs developed with local high schools and universities enabling students to participate in accelerated classes.
  • Establishment of student clubs such us the Mathletes and National Student Council and National Honor Society to promote student leadership.
  • Expanding the athletic program to include gymnastics and swimming
  • Creation of a summer school program for enrichment
  • Promoting the study of languages: Italian, Croatian, Spanish, and Chinese.

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