The Story of Saint Vincent Ferrer (1940-2019)
Rev. William P. McIntyre, O.P. began the work of organizing St. Vincent Ferrer Parish in the fall of 1931. Beginning on November 22nd of that year, Father McIntyre celebrated Mass on Sundays and holy days in the auditorium of Trinity High School. He directed the construction of a small frame church facing North Avenue which was dedicated on December 18, 1932. Approximately thirty families formed the nucleus of the new parish, and they now were able to attend Mass in their own small frame church.
As early as 1935, architect Zachary Davis laid out several possible plans for St. Vincent’s property. They all included a church, a school, a convent and a rectory, though in various locations. One variation called for the church to be on the corner of LeMoyne and Jackson, facing east. The plan that was eventually chosen utilized the English Gothic style of architecture, the same as the House of Studies on Division and Harlem Avenues, and suggests the layout we know today. It is surprising how closely the 1935 drawings reflect our present buildings.
Due to the depression, the construction of the parish school was delayed until 1939. In September 1940, as construction was nearing completion, the Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters began conducting classes at Trinity High School and in the frame church. The new two-story four classroom school was dedicated on October 27, 1940, and classes were moved there. This structure consisted of the Lathrop entrance and one room on each side of the entrance on each floor. That would be the present rooms 2,3,12 and 13. The total enrollment was 44 with the largest class boasting 12 pupils. Of the four classrooms, only three were used for school; the fourth served as a winter chapel because of the difficulty in adequately heating the frame church.
Sister Ramona McAllister, O.P., was the first principal, Sister Virgine, O.P. taught first and second grades, Sister Marie Williams, O.P., taught third and fourth grades and Sister Ramona doubled as the fifth and sixth grade teacher.
By the spring of 1942 the school enrollment had grown to 144 so 4 more classrooms, probably rooms 1, 4,11 and 14, and the auditorium (the present gymnasium) were added. The old frame church was abandoned and for the next 14 years, Masses were celebrated in that auditorium.
Unfortunately, Father McIntyre died in September 1942, so he did not live to see the first class graduate in June of 1943. Rev. Richard B. Connolly, O.P., was named pastor. On July 6, 1945, the old frame church was moved intact to Wood Dale, Illinois, where it became the first church of Holy Ghost parish. The edifice, complete with organ and communion rail, was sold for $400. It is still standing today on Wood Dale Road, just south of Irving Park Road on the west side of the street. It is no longer a part of Holy Ghost Parish, but is used by a Hispanic faith community.
For several years, the Dominican Sisters lived in a very old mansion at LeMoyne and Ashland. In 1947, under Father Connolly’s leadership, the convent was constructed. At that time, 150 families belonged to the parish and 300 children were in the school.
Until the present rectory was completed in 1949, the priests resided at the Dominican Priory at Harlem and Division.
St. Vincent Ferrer Parish experienced rapid growth in the years following World War II. Shortly after he was appointed pastor in September 1950, Rev. Stephen Redmond, O.P. launched a $250,000 fund drive for a twelve room school addition to be added to the south end of the school. At that time rooms 5-10 and 15-20 were added. On November 10, 1950, The New World reported that: “within less than five years the population in this section has tripled, largely through the influx of younger married couples with small children and children of grade school age.”
Then Father Redmond focused his attention on constructing a permanent church. On June 29, 1954, ground was broken and the corner stone was laid on October 25, 1954. In its account of the ceremony, The New World noted that: “The parish was founded in 1931 with 35 families and now has more than 1259 families.”
After the new church was finished and the auditorium was no longer used for services, it was decided to refit the auditorium as a gymnasium. The school children sold “Chocolate Covered Almonds” to raise money for the project. Finally, St. Vincent’s students would be able to have gym classes and host sporting events!
By 1957 when Rev. Benjamin Arend, O.P., took over as pastor there were 1,575 families in the parish with a school enrollment of 929 students and a faculty of 17 religious and four lay teachers.
As they say, “The rest is history.” The sisters have come and gone, lay teachers now staff the school, the function of some of the rooms has changed, the office has been moved more than once and the library is now in what used to be the convent. Mobile classrooms have been added then removed. Tuition in the 1950’s was $20 per year and today it is $7340. The largest graduating class was 127 in 1961 and the smallest 19 in 1998.
Today we have 1200 families in the parish and 246 children in the school who receive the Excellence in Catholic Education that has been the hallmark of St. Vincent’s for 70 years. Our students continue to be stimulated, challenged and motivated. They are accepted into college preparatory high schools and attend premier colleges and universities all over the country. Our students participate and succeed in national academic contests, sports and other extracurricular activities.
St. Vincent Ferrer School has a solid foundation, a stellar history and continues to provide an excellent Catholic education to the leaders of tomorrow.