Church Reporter: A visit to Leo High School
(POSTED: 2/13/12) Visited Leo High School recently, on the South Side. One white kid out of 160, rest black. Moved around the building with Pat Hickey, school’s full-time fund-raiser, helping president for advancement, and Dan McGrath, former Chi Trib sports writer.
All boys. They are the best-met young men I have met in a long time. Hop out of chairs to come and shake hand, when Hickey calls them over to meet me. Boxer, footballer, basketballer, track star (school won state last year, sixth time it has done so).
Hickey showed me the boxing gym, a converted classroom with bags and ring. Leo (named after Pope Leo XIII, friend of the working man) is the only high school in the city with a boxing program. Boys I met were scheduled to fight at a coming benefit.
School reeks of manliness, it’s well-organized and spirit-filled. Leo was begun in 1926, has an illustrious history in athletic and other matters. Belongs to the Chicago archdiocese, is supported by alumni and foundations. Students each pay something.
Building is in great shape, on 79th Street at Sangamon, mile or so west of the Dan Ryan Expy. To its west, across a small parking lot, is a spanking new football practice field, its green, green grass sparkling on a snow-less winter day.
Irish Christian Brothers staffed it from its opening, departed in early ’90s, school is run by lay boards.
Friendliness of the place is in part thanks to the size of the student body. Small school can afford to be relaxed. But two kids horsing around in the cafeteria got a quick what’s-that-about from Hickey, who knew every kid we encountered, name and history. Again small school element.
Three more whites next year. (One student asked Hickey, no whites here? We’re working on it, he said.) Dipping into the mostly Irish heritage of the place, of which it also reeks, mainly in its no-nonsense atmosphere. I met one woman teacher, of the few I met or saw. (Yes, but five of 12 teachers are women, per 2011 graduation photo.) The place is quite masculine. Niceties no, friendliness yes.
Very few Catholic students. Monthly mass obligatory. Student asked why, since he’s not Catholic. Part of the program, said Hickey. Muslim students among them.
More later on this interesting place, which is very Chicago.
By Jim Bowman
He was religion editor for The Chicago Daily News, 1968 to its closing in 1978, and since then has written many books and articles, including his Bending the Rules: What American Priests Tell American Catholics (Crossroad, 1994). He blogs at http://blithespirit.wordpress.com/ and elsewhere. www.jimbowman.com has the links.