“Where did you go to high school?” is a very commonly asked question among St. Louis natives. Private Catholic high schools are important to St. Louis as they play a big role in educating youth in St. Louis along with holding parts of St. Louis’s history and culture. According to Kristen Taketa of the St. Louis Post Dispatch, this is evident in the fact that “almost 40,000 students attend more than 130 Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, which spans 11 counties in eastern Missouri.”
Here, we compare the differences and the similarities between SLU High and Nerinx Hall, specifically their focus on religion alongside education in daily life, the history behind each of these high schools in relation to the history of St. Louis, and experiences at the schools. Nerinx is an all female high school and is proudly feminist. We saw varying results from SLUH, an all male institution, with two hundred years of Jesuit history in St. Louis.
Founded on November 16, 1818, by the Jesuit province of New Orleans, the story of Saint Louis Academy begins. Then, as a Latin school for boys, the academy was started in a house on the bank of the Mississippi River. It later moved a block down the street near the corner of Market and 2nd Street, which is now the grounds of the Arch and the Jefferson Expansion Memorial Park. In 1829, Saint Louis Academy became a school taught by Jesuits, adding Latin in 1830, and Greek in 1831. Shortly after opening its doors as a Jesuit boys school, its enrollment of 10 boarding students and 30 day students, in weeks turned into 30 boarding students and 120 day students. In 1832, Saint Louis University was officially chartered under Missouri Legislature, with Saint Louis Academy as part of the College of Arts and Sciences, and this is how it would stand for the next fifty years. The school moved several more times and underwent various name changes in that period of time. In 1925, Saint Louis University High moved to its current location on Oakland Avenue into the Backer Memorial Campus. Then, the school of 500 boys, in a building with capacity nearly twice the current enrollment, boarded up unused classrooms until the school needed to use them. In 1930, Saint Louis University High School, at the insistence of Mrs. Backer, (the benefactor of the entire Backer Memorial Campus, in name of her husband) separated as financial entities from Saint Louis University. Because of her generous donations, at the time the largest in diocesan history, Cardinal Pacelli, later Pius XII, wished to visit her, and thank her. Unfortunately, Mrs. Backer died a month before Cardinal Pacelli made his visit. Upon his visit, Cardinal Pacelli, much against the objections of the principal, gave the students the rest of the day off. In 1945, the still standing tradition of “Senior Follies” began under the direction of Fr. John Doyle. All of this culminates into 200 years of Jesuit history, Catholic teaching, St. Louis experience, and the second oldest Jesuit high school in the United States.
Nerinx Hall traces its history to the founding of a new society of women religious in 1812 called the Sisters of Loretto. Three women - Ann Havern, Mary Rhodes, and Christina Stuart - were teachers on the Kentucky frontier when they decided to organize a religious society. A Belgian Jesuit, Father Charles Nerinckx, helped nurture the society to greater heights, and the Sisters commemorated his works by naming their newly established school at the family Lockwood House in Webster Groves after him, Nerinx Hall, in 1924. (The Sisters of Loretto also founded what is now Webster University as a teacher's college in 1915.)
From then on, Nerinx Hall has greatly expanded at its location in Webster Groves, which is an older, inner-ring suburb of St. Louis. The school moved next door in 1954 to cope with the increased numbers, and later reclaimed Lockwood House in 1993. Its latest enrollment was nearly 600 girls. Nerinx Hall will stay true to their roots of the Sisters of Loretto to continue raising future leaders with the right Christian perspectives.
When looking at the two local high schools, there is one obvious similarity - both are single-sex, Catholic high schools dedicated to educating today’s youth with a focus on preparing them for their futures. Part of preparing these young men and women for their futures, these schools feel, is involving religious education. Catholic education “guides children in the knowledge and practice of the Christian virtues...as a preparation for adult life in Christ” (Fox). These schools vow themselves to growing their students intellectually, socially, and religiously. Their values stem from the same vein.
Nerinx Hall’s philosophy says, “We strive to help each young woman know herself and her world. We offer her a loving community of faith that nurtures her individual gifts, enlivens her spirit, and reveals a diverse world where hope prevails. And we call each young woman to deliberate Christian action in her world.” This all-girl institution, which is known for its feminist identity, creates in each girl a strong faith base and an even stronger sense of self. Nerinx Hall values self-discipline, confidence, and creativity to help not only in the classroom setting but in the real world.
SLU High’s mission statement says, “We are a Catholic, Jesuit college-preparatory school for young men, committed to our presence in the City of St. Louis and dedicated to building Christ’s kingdom of truth, justice, love and peace...In addition to assisting in the intellectual, aesthetic, social, and physical formation of our students, we help them develop compassionate hearts by fostering habits of personal prayer, reflection, and service for the Greater Glory of God.” Similar to Nerinx Hall’s philosophy, SLU High, an all-boy school, has committed itself to growing its students in every aspect of life.
SLUH High and Nerinx Hall have their similarities and differences that make them unique, but both are outstanding examples of the dedication of Catholic teachings and their influence on St. Louis’s history.
Written and researched by Caroline McClain, Brian Smith, and Luke Wilson.
St. Louis University High Website. St. Louis University High, 2017, https://www.sluh.org/.
Nerinx Hall Website. Nerinx Hall. 2017, http://www.nerinxhall.org
Fox, Robert J., Rev. Religious Education: Its Effects, Its Challenges Today. Boston: Daughters of St. Paul, 1972. Print.
Taketa, Kristen. “Amid a nationwide enrollment drop, Catholic educators gather in St. Louis”. Apr 19, 2017.
Webster University: Mission and History. Webster University, 2017. http://www.webster.edu/about/mission.html