Fifty years ago, no one was sure if the idea of a new boys’ Catholic high school would fly on Chicago’s Southwest Side, least of all its take-charge principal, Brother Pius Xavier, FMS.
The New York brother was sent to Chicago to carry out the religious order’s mission of making Jesus known through the education of youth. Br. Pius found the land at 115th Street and Pulaski Road. He also supervised the building’s construction, working through Cardinal Albert Gregory Meyer, who had the ear of another important Irish Catholic ally, Mayor Richard J. Daley.
“Cardinal Meyer and Br. Pius did all the dealings with Mayor Daley,” Br. Gerard Brereton, FMS, one of the original faculty recalled. “The land was unincorporated and had to be annexed by Chicago. The city council had to approve the electricity and water hookups. Mayor Daley told Cardinal Meyer: ‘Just let me know what you need.’”
Follow the photo timeline of Marist High School’s half-century of learning.
Through the strength of his faith and character, Br. Pius sold the parents of 320 boys on the dream and vision of Marist High School the winter of 1963, by promising them that the building would be open to accept students the next fall.
“Br. Pius was a big, tough, Navy man who had served in World War II,” Br. Brereton said. “He was a great leader. He put together a great school and organized great mothers. and fathers’ clubs.”
Three days before the school opened the doors to its first freshmen class on Sept. 9, 1963, eight more Marist Brothers flew from New York to Chicago to serve on the school’s first faculty sight unseen.
“Br. Pius brought us straight from the airport to see the school. It was a big
construction project,” Br. Brereton said. "He almost had to postpone the opening another year, but he didn't want to disappoint the boys or their parents."
The brothers’ living quarters had not yet been built, so the men bunked the first several months with the Augustinian priests at 203rd Street in Olympia Fields. The night before the school opened, Br. Pius gave the brothers, most of them young men in their 20s, a pep talk.
“Br. Pius said he was prayerful and hopeful, saying he didn’t know if the school would fly or not,” Br. Brereton recalled. “The next morning, nine of us piled into his station wagon and he drove us to the school.”
Eventually Br. Pius left the religious order after 33 years. He married and went back to using his given name, Edward Joseph Lyons. He never lost his passion or belief in Catholic education, serving as superintendent of Catholic schools in Baltimore, MD.
As Marist gets ready to celebrate its 50th anniversary,
it’s safe to say that Br. Pius won his bet.
Cardinal Francis George will celebrate the school's opening on Monday, Sept. 9, with an outdoor Mass at 9 a.m. in Marist High School's Red and White Stadium, located at 4200 W. 115th Street, Chicago. The public is invited. Parking is available at Chateau Busche, 11535 S. Cicero Ave., with shuttle service starting at 7:45 a.m.
Photos courtesy of Marist High School.