Leo President Dan McGrath and four of the seven Canaryvillains at Leo High School with Joe's Mom and Coach Fogarty: from the left (Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, Bobby Jordan, Gabriel Dell,)
“When I went to take the entrance exams, it was during the famous winter storms [of 1979]. We took the test that day. They had to make arrangements to get us back home. Jay Strandring drove the Canaryville guys back home. He dropped us off at one of the viaducts because he realized he wouldn’t be able to get back out if he went under the viaduct. We walked back in the neighborhood. I think that was my first time ever at the school. I must have shadowed with my brother there once or twice, I suppose. But the first day I went to Leo as a student, I had to ask the bus driver if that was the school. We stopped at 79th, and I asked if that was Leo, and he said, “You’re going to a school you don’t even know where it’s at.”
I said, “Yeah.” He said, “That’s it.”
“My two oldest brothers went to St. Ignatius. My brother right above me went to Leo. My mom didn’t really like St. Rita at the time because my uncle—her brother—had gone there. My brother [Michael] just didn’t like school. It didn’t matter where he went. A funny story about my first day at Leo, I’m walking past the doorway and I hear: ‘McFarlane.’ I backed up, until I was in the doorway, and it was one of the [football] coaches, Dave Mutter. He grabbed me by the shirt and said: ‘Are you anything like your brother?’ I looked at him and said, ‘Absolutely not.’ That kind of shocked him. He let me go and he said something like, ‘Good for you.’ My brother had a reputation by the time I got to Leo. During my time at Leo, my brother would stop me in the hallway and say, ‘We’re going to the beach. Do you wanna go?’ With his buddies, he would just disappear. I was always afraid to do something like that with my parents.
“I took the Halsted bus when I first started at Leo, and then we had a bus service that started to pick us up. It was close to my house, I had to walk down like five houses to the corner.”
Father William McFarlane '83
This summer it has been my pleasure and pride to pick-up and deliver incoming freshman to Leo High School -one very big lad from Bronzeville and seven gents from Canaryville -One huge black kids and seven hard-scrabble pale-faces from St. Gabe's. I pick them up between 7-7:25 AM and they are never late and very rarely absent. My task is merely a cog in a recruitment and marketing machine developed by Leo football coach, admissions director and Father Flanagan to hundreds of Leo Men, Mike Holmes and Leo President Dan McGrath.
Leo High School is a Catholic high school for young men situated in the Gresham neighborhood on 79th Street just west of Halsted ( 7910 S. Sangamon Street -60620). This iconic lion of a building is home to thousands of men from Chicago's stockyard, industrial and railroad past. Leo was built at the command of George Cardinal Mundelein and under the supervision of Msgr. Peter Shewbridge, pastor of St. Leo Parish, now, closed but still serving veterans through Catholic Charities. The building designed by Joseph McCarthy, lieutenant and disciple of Daniel Burnham went up in 1921; the school opened in 1926.
Catholics from all over the industrial south side of Chicago sent their sons to Leo High School. which competed huskily with older and more established Mount Carmel, St. Rita and De La Salle. One of the most powerful cadres of talent attended Leo from St. Gabriel Parish in Canaryville. e.g. Basketball standout James "Bro" Farrell dominated the hardwood floors of local, state and national opponents. St. Gabe's, south of Bridgeport, is the incubator of south side Catholic Chicago.
That is because of a man and an institution - Msgr. Maurice Dorney* and the Chicago Stockyards.
The Chicago Stockyards, St. Gabe's, was home to workers - not the affluent scions of burger families from Lake or DuPage counties who Occupy Chicago with Visa and Mastercards in their wallets - workers who scratched out a living, contributed to their church, built schools and spent their free-time fighting for the eight-hour day. These workers penned, drovered, killed, butchered, rendered and cleaned every thing on four legs for meat, teeth, bones, marrow hides, horns to be transformed for America's tables, hairbrushes, buttons, wardrobes and footwear. They made soap, gelatin, fertilizer and bacon for the Armour, Agar, Cudahy, Swift and Hammond families. They lost fingers, lungs and lives in the act of building community. Father Dorney protected their paychecks from gamblers, pimps and thugs and their dignity from Social Darwinism. There is no expressway named for Msgr. Dorney. Dorney was and remains the spirit of Canaryville, That spirit is reflected in the accomplishments past, present and to come by his spiritual children.
Muhammad Ali said that, in his opinion, the greatest boxer of all time was Canaryville boxer Packy McFarland; Chicago White Sox 1st baseman George Moriarty was Canaryville born and bred and would become a Cub and later move to a long career as Detroit Tiger, where he took root as a coach and American League umpire - his grandson ( here with Robert DeNiro)would become one of America's greatest actors and accomplished musician, composer and author Michael Moriarty. Canaryville is home to priests as well as punchers of pigs and pedestrians.
The south side Catholic union family began in the blood, bones and hides of Canary. Many of those families became wildly successful and moved from The 'Ville but never out of it. My maternal grandfather was a lather according to his union card, but moreso a Regans Colts shoulder-hitter and utility tough guy for the Cermak/Kelly/Kennelly and Daley Reg'lar Demacrats as well as occasional operative for Ralph Sheldon. His brother became a priest and labor chaplain - he would give the last rites to Brady, McCarthy ( Leo '67) and Delahanty in Washington D.C. when Jodie Foster's stalker tried to kill President Reagan. Carnaryville seems to be everywhere.
Canaryville is physically and spiritually manifest at Leo High School once again. African American and white Catholic Alumni have worked with Mike Holmes and Dan McGrath for the last three years to give Leo some ethnic diversity - since 1991, Leo High School has been 100% African American. Black alumni behind Mike Holmes have pushed to recruit Hispanic and white students. Black Alumni Mike Anderson and Mike Lee have teamed with Canaryvillains and Irish Catholic alums Brian Fogarty and Jack Farnan and impressed young white guys from St. Gabe's parish to be Leo Men. Last year Jeff "White Chocolate" X___________ added his see-through Irish pelt to the darker hued Lions. This year, Leo welcomes seven more Canaryville gentlemen:Tommy, AJ, Brian F, Brian C, Joe C, CK, Mitch C are Leo Men!
My morning's route takes me to Bronzeville, where in the shadow of the Black Doughboy on Martin Luther King Drive at 35th Street, I wait for Daylon F - a mountain of sweetness and innocence packed into 6'3" and change. Daylon is the latest in the many Leo Men from Bronzeville, like Leo Akim Hunter (Leo 2004 & Northwestern University 2008).
Daylon and I head west past De La Salle Institute and hang a left at Wentworth on the front porch of Comiskey Park ( it will never be The Cell) and head south with this daily admonition from my co-pilot Daylon -" Don't Turn on Root Street and get to swearin' Mr. Hickey." Architect John Root, for whom the street is named, helped Maurice Dorney build St. Gabriel's Church, school, rectory and convent, as well as affordable housing for the working families - many of whom still call St. Gabe's home more than century later. We maintain our course to 43rd Street and hang a right westward to Emerald Street and carefully wind around the cul-de-sac lite south to Graham Elementary School parking lot.
We are usually greeted by this school's engineer Dean Fuller Leo '71 a resident of Canaryville. The red-heads and pale faces load the Ford Van with critiques of the Dunkin Donut selection, " No long-johns? Don't get powdered, please it's as bad as the nut-sprinkles on them, Mr. Hickey. Just get frosted and we won't have a problem" Likewise, I get informed about the upcoming Freshman football season, Miss Meany's math and Coach Ed Adams' reading classes. All of the young men will play football, basketball, baseball and a few will box. They are good students and delightful companions who lack not a jot for self-esteem. None of them have central air conditioning and universally accept heat. They are tough kids from Bronzeville amd Canaryville. Daylon's only complaint is the obviously racist hornet who torments his daily drink of water at the public fountain west of the CPS school parking lot. The Dunkin Donuts have a very short life-span - roughly 43rd Street to 79th Street.
*Saint Gabriel Parish & Elementary School are positioned in the heart of Canaryville, a small community of several third and fourth generation Irish immigrants. The neighborhood is extremely proud of its strong roots to Ireland with family ties running deep and strong in the parish and school. Saint Gabriel is a hidden gem, tucked away amid century old homes and secluded from the neighborhoods surrounding Canaryville.
As Saint Gabriel Parish celebrates its 130th Anniversary, we would like to share how the school and parish began. Many people know that Father Maurice Dorney was St. Gabriel’s first pastor, but did you know… • Father Dorney had the foresight to purchase 20 lots (from 45th to 46th and Lowe) for $500(!) to build the church, school, convent and rectory for Saint Gabriel’s • While pastor, Father Dorney graduated from law school • Also know as “The King of the Yards,” Father was friends to both workingman and company owner, procuring jobs and helping avert strikes • Father Dorney was gifted with a block of stock from the head of National Livestock Bank – after two decades the dividends grew to $68,000, and the money was spend “for the welfare of the church, and assisting in the school’s of Saint Gabriel” • Father Traveled to Ireland in 1887 and was instrumental in the exoneration of Charles Stewart Parnell (champion of home rule for Ireland) who was accused of complicity in a murder.