David Jordan, Class of '74, wrote this piece for the 2009 West Side Reunion program and has agreed to let us reprint it here. Please send your memories or comments and we will include them on this page.
Friends Forever from St. Angela
St. Angela parish has been defunct for a few years. The church at Potomac and Massasoit has been shuddered since May 2005. Statues, stained-glass panes and many of the elaborate marble, silver and gold furnishings from the stunning 1952 church now grace a suburban church, Our Lady of Ransom, in Niles. The Catholics are largely long gone from Chicago’s West Side.
Still, though, there is a school, a community centered on its students thrives there 89 years after SAS opened.
The St. Angela parish community that I grew up in from the early 1960’s till the early 1980’s was tight knit.
My father had grown up in the parish, from the late 1920’s till the late 1940’s, having been born there a few years after SA’s 1916 founding.
By 1952, eight years before my birth, Catholics in Chicago, a huge part of the immigrant haven’s population, had created parish communities throughout the city and into the suburbs, and the new churches continued to be built, though none so magnificent as St. Angela’s.
St. Angela parish itself reached into suburban Oak Park, as parish boundaries followed their own lines, not those containing governmental jurisdictions or secular neighborhoods.
When I was a kid, whenever anyone asked me what part of Chicago I hailed from, I said “St. Angela’s,” not “North Austin,” the secular name for the area surrounding my home, which was a brick two-flat on the 1800 block of north Mason Avenue.
Parishes and local parks were pillars of childhood in Chicago (and still are in some communities in the area).
Little Galewood Park, near Bloomingdale and Central avenues, where me and many of my nine siblings hung out, drew kids from well beyond the neighborhood.
At St. Angela, bonds were strengthened by the SAS sports program that my father, John “Jack” Jordan, built up and led as volunteer athletic director from the 1960’s into the 1980’s.
But, by the time my family finally said goodbye to St. Angela, moving to the Far Northwest Side in the mid-1980s, “white flight” had left few parishioners remaining.
The rolls of St. Angela’s school, like those at its church, were shrinking as many Catholics moved out.
When Sister Mary Finnegan took the helm at St. Angela elementary in 1983, its enrollment had shrunk to about 500 students from a peak – with eight grades and no preschool or kindergarten – a decade or so earlier of around 1200.
My 1974 Class had 116 graduates. The eighth-graders were divided into three home rooms. Our teachers at the “new-school” wing, were Mr. Brand, Miss Russ and Mr. Rolla.
When I attended, because the big building was busting at the seams, SAS had to reject some kids, new arrivals to the parish, whose parents resorted to sending them to the local public school.
Despite its changing fortunes, SAS has endured, and Sister Mary Finnegan, is still the principal.
Today’s SAS’s enrollment, from 3-year-old preschoolers to young-teenage eighth graders, stands at 278. (In 2017, our enrollment is 285.)
In recent years, more than one friend of mine from elsewhere in the United States has expressed amazement at the number of old childhood classmates from Chicago Catholic parishes who stay in touch, keeping each other connected to the place they went to grade school.
And it’s very much of a Class-Of kind of thing. Not that we exclude people from other class levels from our group of friends, but that special bond of being a classmate remains. We had the same teachers in the same grades at the same time. We have mutual, grade-exclusive memories.
Just like some people remain close to a few classmates from high school and college, many Catholic Chicagoans instead – or also, and often more so – retain friendships from their parish grammar school.
In “Surviving the Death of a Sibling” – a 2003 book that my sister-in-law Maureen Jordan sent me six weeks after the accidental August 1, 2009, death of her husband, my 45 year younger old brother – author T.J. Wray says your sibling is unique in knowing you from childhood to old age. While I get her point that no one knows you like a brother of sister – and indeed, Marty was so very near and dear to me – I think Wray is not entirely accurate, especially when I consider my – unrelated – St. Angela’s classmates.
Sure, there were divisions among SAS classmates, cliques that, kids being kids, formed, sometimes at the cruel exclusion of others. But it seems that the lines tend to fade away over time. And, though we may not see each other for many years, we retain a special mutual remembrance. We are still classmates, and the school’s continued existence means lifelong friendships can continue to form among students at St. Angela.