Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Dan Kelley's Review of Every Heart and Hand: A Leo High School Story

Chicago writer and Chicago Daily Observer correspondent Dan Kelley sent me this review of Every Heart and Hand: A Leo High School Story the book and the review is a small tribute to the great courage and commitment of the Leo Alumni! God Bless You Guys!

Here's Dan Kelley's review:

This is an interesting book that is both a nostalgic exercise and an informal history of St. Leo High School. It is also a testimonial to faith and endurance.

Pat Hickey details the growth of the Auburn Gresham neighborhood and the plan to promote a Catholic boys high school to serve the community. Established in 1926, St. Leo High School developed a reputation for sponsoring terrific athletic teams and graduating classes that brought great credit to the alma mater. It was a working district filled with bungalows and families that followed the Chicago Cardinals and White Sox.

Racial tensions and changing demographics should have spelled the demise of this venerable institution. The Chicago Archidiocese canceled its subsidy to the school and shuttered numerous Catholic parishes that formerly served to provide entering freshmen students to the high school; the Irish Christian Brothers who had operated the school severed their ties to the institution and lay administrators took over a school that had shaky finances and an aging physical plant; the student population was increasingly African American and non-Catholic; the surrounding neighborhood was in decline and viewed as unsafe, gang dominated turf. The future looked bleak and closing the high school seemed to be the obvious and imminent solution.

As Hickey relates, Leo Men would not support a losing cause, but they would accept a challenge when there was a prospect of winning. The alumni rallied to save the high school. Although St. Leo is no longer serving the same Irish Catholic population as it did in former decades, its alumni donors have maintained the school to educate the impoverished African Americans residing in the immediate community. To quote the author, this may be "the greatest story never told." Oprah can support a school in South Africa and reap unlimited publicity from this worthy endeavor, but when the same thing occurs in the Chicago based television celebrity's own backyard the story is not newsworthy. Don't you know how bigoted the Southsiders are?

This unjust stereotype is unwarranted at St. Leo. These same 'bigots' are providing a high quality education to young men who are exceeding expectations and breaking out of the vicious circle of gangs, drugs, poverty and despair and succeeding at many of the preeminent colleges and universities in the USA. Why would the alumni support a school that no longer serves their children and grandchildren? One of the mottos of the St. Leo Lions is inscribed on the cornerstone: "Pro Deo et Patria" (for God and Country). What else is there to say? Another guiding principle at the school is "Facta Non Verba" (Deeds Not Words). Case closed.

My only complaint with the book is a simple one: I wish that there were more pages and more stories recounted in the book. Nonetheless, this slim volume is recommended for those with an interest in Chicago's South Side.

Click my Post Title for the book.

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