When Mike Steurer attended Marist High School’s anniversary mass on Monday, it was a far cry from what he encountered as an incoming freshmen 50 years ago on Sept. 9, 1963.
Sold on a vision of a new, sparkling Catholic boys’ high school, the eager/nervous freshman instead encountered a construction site.
At the time, nobody was certain if the new Marist High School would take root on Chicago-annexed prairie land and be embraced by the community-–least of all its take-charge principal, Br. Pius Xavier, FMS.
“The CTA bus dropped us off on 115th Street in front of the school,” Steurer recalled. “We had to walk over mud on wooden planksto get to the sidewalks. We saw Brother Pius looking out the second-floor window at all the incoming freshmen. He was a big man. We knew we weren’t there to fool around.”
As Marist High School kicks off a year-long celebration marking its 50th anniversary, Steurer shared some of his memories from the high school’s first graduating class of 1967.
“Marist only had one floor open, the second floor was under construction,” Steurer said. “Even the first floor when you walked through the doors, the light fixtures were still hanging from the ceiling in the halls and classrooms. It was definitely different.”
Growing up in Merrionette Park, his father passed away when Steurer was an eighth-grader at St. Christina School. His mother was determined that Steurer and his three sisters would receive a Catholic high school education.
“My older sister was at Mother McAuley and my second sister below me went to Mother of Sorrows in Blue Island,” he said. “It was hard on my mom, she was a receptionist at a bank. It was a lot of tuition.”
His mother had given him a choice: Brother Rice High School or the new Catholic boys' high school that was opening down the street at Pulaski and 115th Street.
“Brother Pius came to St. Christina Church, which was my parish at the time,” Steurer said. “He told us all about the school and the Marist Brothers.”
Tuition was $250. An uncle, who worked in human resources at Carson Pirie Scott, helped his nephew lie about his age so Steurer could get a job to pay his way through high school.
“I was 15 and you had to be 16,” Steurer said. “I worked in the Boy Scout and boys’ section at Carson’s. That’s where I met my wife; we were both seniors in high school. It was meant to be.”
For the next four years, Steurer watched the school take shape. Later that year when some of the construction dust settled and things got more organized Cardinal John Cody came and dedicated the school.
Unlike today’s Red and White Stadium and its multi-million artificial turf field, there were no sports programs that first year. After a new crop of freshmen entered the next fall, the Marist sophomores formed the first varsity teams, playing against other high schools where the players were older and bigger.
Marist’s baseball team stunned the South Side when the sophomores went 9-1 in varsity baseball.
“My claim to fame is going 2-for-3 against Ed Farmer who went on to pitch for the White Sox,” Steurer laughed.
Today, Steurer owns a steel company and resides in Homer Glen with his wife, Carol. They raised three children, one of whom graduated from Marist.
He credits the education he received at Marist High School for his success in life and business, and is especially thankful to Br. Gerard Brereton, FMS, for "smoothing out the rough edges" when Steurer was a young, fatherless boy.
“All of the brothers were young, vibrant guys,” Steurer said. “They had good ideas. We all got to know each other. I received a great education. Marist was a good place to be in the 1960s.”
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