By Melissa Ann Quidang
High school is a time of a young person’s life that is memorable, whether it is a good memory or not. One school, called Guerin College Preparatory high school in River Grove, provided 60+ years of Catholic education. Unfortunately, during the 2020 pandemic, the school shut its doors due to increasing financial stress on the school and the families. Many alumni were baffled by the decision and expressed grief over the sudden loss of a great school with a rich background.
Formerly known as Mother Theodore Guerin High School, Guerin Prep was initially an all-girls school founded in 1962 by the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary of the Woods. The name changed in 2004 when the neighboring all-boys school Holy Cross High School, closed. Thus, Guerin College Preparatory High School became the official name until 2020.
Maria Choronzuk Class of 1983 (in red socks), with her older sister, mom, aunt, and grandmother posing with Sister of Providence, Sister Virginia Ann.
“The Sisters passed a can around class to collect change for the “new school” being built in River Grove.”
The school mascot and representative were the Guerin Gators. Still, sometime from 2014 to 2015, the school added an old friend to the mix, the Crusaders. The Crusader’s mascot belonged to the Holy Cross High School for Boys. It thus became the mascot for all the boy sports such as basketball, football, baseball, and golf!
The experiences of the students throughout the years differ as time passed. After speaking with a few of the alumni of Mother Theodore Guerin and Guerin College Prep, they shared their favorite memory in high school and the changes throughout the years.
An all-girls school meant that you can be a female and be innovative, which was a definite meaning for many young women. Young women were getting an education that would benefit them as new changes were paving through a new era. Many Guerinittes claim that the best part of an all-girls school was that there were no distractions (meaning boys), and you can be yourself.
Me and my friend sporting the Gator and Crusader colors
Linda Smith Mullen: Class of 1968: “It was all girls back then so there was no pressure to only pursue classes considered feminine. Many of my classmates felt free to excellence in math, the sciences. I personally was responsible for there being a curve in those Math classes but nevertheless, I felt no restrictions based on my gender. The uniforms were very equalizing as we all had to dress the same. I made great friends and got a great education.”
Portraits that were saved and auctioned before demolition and brought to the Sisters of Providence at St. Mary of the Woods, Indiana. Photo Credit: Maria “Caposieno” Choronzuk Class of ‘83
Moving forward almost a decade, Guerin provided a rich education for its young women, especially providing some funny moments with the Holy Cross boys across the street.
Carol “Nowdomski” McKeague: Class of 1977: “Looking back now it was the best thing my parents did for me by having me continue a Catholic education. The education was something that has been with me since then. Little things will happen, and I think ” I remember that from Mother Guerin” To this day cooking class in Home Economics is what gave me the base to enjoy cooking so much. I knew I did not want to be a secretary and they offered a one semester typing course. That one semester of typing has been my saving grace over the years. All the classes were taught so well.”
McKeague also mentioned a hilarious encounter with the Holy Cross boys. “Every class was taught very well, whether it was a layperson or a nun. Two of the nuns that stick out are Sister Marie Cyril and Sister George. They were both so understanding, and every now and then would throw out a zinger. Back then, “streaking” was quite popular, and one sunny afternoon two Holy Cross boys went streaking past our first-floor classroom. We were all laughing, and Sister George was yelling, “girls, girls, don’t be looking out there!”
Photos from 1983
Sandee “Kraft” Medor Class of 1981: “I learned a lot more of my moral character was formed at Guerin because of the teachers, staff, and the other girls I went to school with. And I think because that moral fiber was solidified, it traveled with me to other areas. Back in the ’80s, it was always like the guys were smarter in XYZ areas. But at Guerin, we were all on the same playing field. It was okay to be a girl and okay to be smart. There was also an understanding between us girls, like an unspoken saying that if you don’t understand my silence, you won’t understand my words.”
Medor donating blood at Guerin’s blood drive.
Guerin taught that caring can be physically and mentally draining but amazingly rewarding to your heart and spirit. It was the little things that the school ushered for its students to always give back what they were given and help one another in times of need. Whether it was a blood drive, raising money for charities, caring for the elderly, or teaching the young, students were prompted to always lend a helping hand. For some, that extended further into their lives.
Noelle J. Dodge: Class of 1989: “It was at Mother Guerin that I had the vision to open a 24-hour day care for single moms working third shifts, or homeless so children would have a safe place to sleep. After graduating I had my own child, and my dream was put aside. I completed my master’s degree in human services administration at Judson University and 32 years later I am pursuing that dream again.”
The arts were an essential part of Guerin. Whether it was artwork, literature, music, or theater, the arts were always alive. It was one of the representations of ‘Guerin Pride,’ especially for the students and teachers.
Colleen Murray: Class of 1991: “I loved the arts like drawing and painting. It was a big part of my experience at Guerin. One of my teachers were encouraging me during my junior and senior year to pursue art in college, but I wasn’t sure if I loved it enough. Like, could I get a job or do an art major? But she encouraged and supported me to pursue this path, so I applied for some scholarships that she helped find for college. So, I became an art major at the University of Illinois, and then a graphic design major. After that, I went into grad school and moved to the San Francisco Bay area. I do a lot of strategy and innovation consulting right now, but certainly there are elements of design that occur from my background such as creativity and broad problem solving. So, Guerin really helped me find my future and gave me the confidence to do something so big and life changing.”
Some students could not leave the school and returned not as students or visiting alumni but as teachers who wanted to share the same experience given to her when she was a student.
Kathleen Marie: Class of 2003 and teacher: “What I loved most about Guerin was the sense of family and community. I felt that as a student, but I truly saw it in display daily during my time on staff from 2008-2020. We truly were a family. Colleagues became lifelong friends, and students would come back during their college years and beyond just to visit the school and catch up with teachers. Even now, a year after Guerin closed, I am still in contact with so many of my students and I am getting to see them so great things in this world, and some of my very best friends were people I first met as colleagues as Guerin. Guerin truly was a second home and a second family for me. I miss it EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.”
There was a saying Guerin students learned from Saint Mother Theodore Guerin. It was, “love the children first, and then teach them.” The phrase was taught in every theology class and said every year. It really portrayed those who taught in the school and the high expectations the educators struggled with. It is no secret that teenagers could be pretty excessive during their years, especially when going into high school. Therefore, teachers had to express patience and understanding, but also steadfast strength and discipline when necessary. But to “love the children first” represented the utmost type of care towards students. To instructors, their students were not just their students but their family.
Gene Majewski was a teacher at Guerin from August 2002 to June 2020: “As a theology teacher, I wanted them to know as Fr. Richard Rohr called one of his books that they are Immortal Diamonds! Also, that they would know that they were loved by God unconditionally no matter whether they were saw themselves as religious or not. He also wanted his students to ‘form a learning community and would support each other not only as fellow learners but as persons.’ One of our goals as expressed in the vision of the school is to help them to be lifelong learners.”
November 2015 Kairos
Many of the alumni who graduated before the Holy Cross and Guerin joined expressed their grief over the change. They realized that the young women in the school would not have the same sisterhood experience given to them during their time there. Still, they understood that the process had to be done. It was also “based on Mother Theodore’s accepting to minister at an orphanage for boys in the history of the Sisters,” said Majewski. Guerin held firm to its beliefs and teachings and extended its providential care to its students. The women who graduated Guerin were now able to see their sons receive the same education they received.
As time went on, those who graduated earlier within the years had no idea of the closing. One student, Tyler Murray from the class of 2012, said that he “hoped it would be around long enough to be able to send my kids there someday.” But as the year 2020 neared, it became apparent that the school was struggling. Students in 2017 to the 2020 year heard rumors or speculated about the closing. What made it noticeable was the decrease in classmates and incoming freshmen.
Guerin’s full orchestra throughout the times
Frank Vincent Gonzalez: Class of 2017: “Whenever we had all school masses in the auditorium every year it seemed that fewer and fewer students were attending Guerin.” But while he was a student, the “Homecoming dances and the Homecoming games were a lot of fun even though we always lost those games. Interacting with teachers and fellow students outside of the classroom setting was a fun experience. Having fun on school property during those times felt a lot like the movies on tv. That stereotypical high school experience that was always wanted to experience was definitely the highlight for me.”
Gonzalez was a Guerin Legacy. His mother was an alumna of Mother Theodore Guerin High School in 1986 but passed away in September of 2020.
Guerin’s attempt’s to inspire students during times of trouble always revolve back into how outstanding and passionate the teachers were. Without the teachers of Guerin, none of the students would have been where they are now.
Julia Utterback: Class of 2019: The most important message Guerin taught her was “to never forget where you came from. Guerin has a lot of success stories for sure, but it also was a school that humbled you. It wasn’t the fanciest school with the best sports teams and the most amazing facilities, but it was the people who made it such a quality school. I of course can’t speak for everyone who went to Guerin, but I know for myself if I didn’t go to that school, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today. Like I had mentioned before, everyone who was a part of Guerin wanted to see each other succeed. Those who had put the most into building up the school, got the most out of it.”
With the last class of Guerin graduating, the alumni became focused on preserving the school’s history. One of the top cases is the beautiful 20-foot mosaic that stood proudly on the north wall of the high school. Called the “Lady of River Grove,” it depicts the Virgin Mary with fish swimming at her feet from a stream and a meadow in the background. There is word that the mosaic can be saved from demolition, ensuring a token of the high school that stood in River Grove.
Designed by Sister Immaculee, some of the mosaic pieces were recovered from a 5th Century mosaic from the Vatican. The rest of the details consists of gold pieces, which Sister Imaculee obtained from a dismantled alter. Other parts of the mosaic have pure glass, Florentine, and Byzantine.
Guerin High school offered students a chance to be themselves and to pursue their dreams. The teachers gave inspiration and instilled ambition in their students and supported and encouraged them. It was a sisterhood that turned into a large family consisting of a long list of legacies and producing new memories within the same hallways.
As Sister Carol Nolan wrote in the song, “The strength of heart which you aspire to give, is the light of truth that we may truly live. As we leave our carefree yesterdays behind us, may tomorrow valiant men and women find us.” For it is through the Guerin song that we shall forever and always lean upon providence and Saint Mother Theodore Guerin, and although the school is gone, we will continue to teach our future the same way Guerin taught us.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Carolyn Bull, a 1973 graduate, created a GoFundMe page in an effort to raise $120,000 to save the beautiful mosaic of “Our Lady of River Grove.”
The link could be found here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/guerin-prep-remembered-fundraisersave-the-mosaic