125 years of LaSallian values on the South Side

By Michelle Martin | Staff Writer
Sunday, October 19, 2014

Anthony Woods and and Alex Gonzalez sing during the closing hymm of an Aug. 22 Mass at De La Salle Institute. Cardinal George was the main celebrant of the Mass of the Holy Spirit, which celebrated the beginning of the 2014-15 academic year as well as the 125th anniversary of the founding of the school. (Karen Callaway / Catholic New World)

For 125 years, De La Salle Institute has been delivering LaSallian education on the South Side of Chicago, and while the details may have changed, the mission hasn’t, said Servite Father Paul Novak, the school’s president.

The De La Salle Christian Brothers opened De La Salle Institute, 3434 S. Michigan Ave., as a three-year commercial college in 1889 with the mission of giving young men from the working classes the opportunity to enter the business community in Chicago, Novak said.

It has functioned as a four-year high school since 1920, when it first received accreditation from the North Central Association. In the 1950s, as the United States started its post-World War II building boom, it added vocational trade programs that it maintained until the late 1990s.

It’s a mission that appealed so much to 2000 graduate Dale Burke that he returned to De La Salle to teach and coach after graduating from college.

“Everyone feels welcome here,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, white, black or Hispanic.”

A math teacher, Burke said he has stepped into the role of his former teacher and mentor Kamaal Khazen, who retired in 2013 after 47 years at the school.

“He taught me to love math,” Burke said.

When he returned to the campus as a teacher only a few years after graduating, Burke said, he found the same sense of family.

“It was a little weird the first two years,” he said. “But they encouraged me. They gave me tips on how succeed in the classroom, just like they did when I was a student.”

In 2002, the school added the Lourdes Hall Campus, 1040 W. 32nd Place, for young women, responding to a need expressed by its families for a Catholic high school for girls on the Near South Side, Novak said. The move came after several high schools for girls had closed. De La Salle now claims the best of both worlds, with single-sex education on separate campuses, but combined cocurricular and social activities.

Now, 97 percent of its graduates head to college and 2 percent join the military after graduation, with 1 percent going directly into the workforce, Novak said.

It has maintained its accreditation with the North Central Association and now AdvancED, and it continues to receive high ratings.

In 2006, Novak said, De La Salle was the first Catholic high school in the archdiocese to offer its students a one-to-one tablet PC curriculum, “bringing in the technological era in which we are living.”

“The school is a living, breathing organism and is continuing to change to meet the needs of its citizens and the citizens of Chicago,” he said.

The history of the school is in many ways intertwined with the history of the city itself. Five Chicago mayors have claimed De La Salle Institute as their alma mater: Francis Corr (1933), Martin Kennelly (1947-1955), Richard J. Daley (1955-1976), Michael Bilandic (1977-1979) and Richard M. Daley (1989- 2011). That includes a stretch from 1947-1979 when three straight mayors were De La Salle men.

“Everyone knows that five mayors of Chicago graduated from here,” Burke said, “and some other pretty famous people too.”

Alumni include many wellknown business leaders, media personalities and professional athletes. Some teachers plan lessons around illustrious alumni, Burke said, “but we don’t want to dwell too much in the past. We want to look into the future and say, ‘What will we become?’”

Going forward, technology will allow students and teachers to develop more individualized curricula to meet their needs, Novak said, with teachers focused on helping students become continuous learners who can take advantage of new technology and new concepts over their entire lives.

What won’t change, he said, is the LaSallian values that De La Salle Institute has been passing on to its students for the last 125 years.

“We are helping our young women and young men be people of faith, people living in community with others, helping them be generous with their time, talent and treasure through service of others.”


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