Thirty-four years before there was a school, there was a
church. In 1887, members of the Thatcher family sold a tract of their forest
and farmland to the Catholic Bishop of Chicago. The land was located at Lake
Street and what would someday become Lathrop Avenue. The price was $150. But it
came with a stipulation: the land could only be used to build a church. And so,
St. Luke Church came to be, with Rev. John Waldron as its resident pastor.
In the 1870’s there were less than 50 houses in this area,
but after the Chicago Fire, people began moving out of the city. By the 1900s,
St. Luke Church was a focal point, serving the booming population of River
Forest, Oak Park, Maywood and Melrose Park.
In the fall of 1921, a single story U-shaped red brick
building was erected, with six classrooms, an office and a playroom. It had a
four-lane bowling alley in the basement, a playground in the courtyard, and the
streetcar line outside on Lake Street.
Archbishop George Mundelein dedicated St. Luke School on
October 21, 1921 and placed it in the care of four Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters.
This order continued to staff the school until the 1980s.
In 1922, St. Luke School graduated its first class, a total
of nine students, and this began a legacy of academic excellence centered in
the Catholic Faith.
During the Great Depression and World War II, many schools cut teachers and
shortened the school year to save money. But St. Luke School did not, dedicated
to the great value of providing its students with a strong Catholic education.
By 1948, the congregation had grown tremendously and school enrollment was at
Alumni who attended classes in this original school building share many fond
memories of the Dominican Sisters, Christmas plays, special programs on St.
Thomas Aquinas Day, processions for church feast days, playing in the basement
bowling alley, standing in line for Confession, and finding the drinking
fountain barred by a chair to prevent breaking fast before Communion. On Lake
Street, yellow streetcars passed by the few remaining cornfields and children
enjoyed stopping in at the K&E Deli and grocery store for lunch. In the
winter, horses from the livery stable of Bowman Dairy were used for sleigh
As the school population grew, this building grew too small. It was razed in
1954 and construction on the new building began. The present school building at
519 Ashland was dedicated by Cardinal Stritch on October 7, 1956 and was filled
to capacity a few years later when enrollment peaked at 725 students.
In 1966 under the leadership of Pastor Fr. John Fahey, St. Luke's first school
board was organized. From then on, nominations and elections for the board
became an annual parish event. In 1967, an all-school science fair was held for
the first time, and participation in math contests and spelling bees challenged
Due to the declining number of Dominican Sisters in the 1970s and 80s, St. Luke
School began employing lay teachers, and in 1985 it hired its first lay
principal. With Sister Colleen Nolan, O.P, Director of Religious Education, our
largely Catholic faculty is committed to excellence and the spiritual
development of the whole child in the Catholic faith.
St. Luke School is also well known for its superb extra-curricular activities -
from altar serving to team sports. The Family and School Association (FSA) was
formed in 1986 to organize school and social events, and those activities grow
more popular every year.
As the 21st century dawned, St. Luke School developed technologies, staff and
teaching methods that set the pace. Equipment and furnishings in the school's
science lab were updated and the computer lab and art room were completely
renovated. In recent years, all the classrooms have been modernized with smart
Most recently, the school reopened its thriving Kindergarten program (now an
Early Childhood Program for ages 3 and up), which had been shuttered in 1963
due to low enrollment. And in 2008, under the criteria established by the
Archdiocese of Chicago, Pastor Fr. Kenneth Fischer dissolved the school board and
replaced it with the Board of Specified Jurisdiction. Members of the BSJ are
appointed by the pastor and are comprised of parish members, school parents and
other people in the community whose talents benefit the school.
Catholic identity has always been closely entwined with our students' academics
and we are committed to nurturing the whole child, spiritually and
scholastically. When you talk with St. Luke alumni some of their fondest,
deepest memories are for the yearly, traditional religious events that make St.
Luke special, like the All Saints Day Mass, May Crowning, Catholic School's
Week Mass and Veteran's Day Prayer Service. These Catholic traditions are
integral to our school.
Our strong, family-centered school community has a long
history and legacy. A number of current students are from third and fourth
generation St. Luke families who were taught in the original 6-classroom school.
We believe the administration, faculty, parents and students share a responsibility
to provide an excellent education centered on Christian love for neighbor. And
ever since the first graduation class of nine students in 1921, St. Luke has
prepared its students to succeed at the secondary level, to assume leadership
roles, and to become ethically mature adults, capable of making Christian moral
decisions in a secular society. Whether one's roots stretch back for many
generations at St. Luke, or they’re just starting to grow in our fertile school
environment, all are welcome in this place.