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St. Christopher School community in Midlothian marks 100 years

St. Christopher School in Midlothian has survived for a century because of one thing, according to Principal Nicole Tzoumas.

“It’s the community that we attribute the longevity to,” she said. “Family volunteers, donors. It’s so easy for me to give you names because so many people continued here. Our secretary went here, she works here, her kid goes here. Everyone is like that.”

Tzoumas likened the continuity of the school community to a chain.

“We have a teacher whose grandmother was a teacher here,” she said. “The grandma, the kids, they all went here. It’s a long list of people who continue to send their kids here and volunteer here and donate their money.”

Another person who sees the school’s connections is volunteer Evelyn Gleason, who helps junior high students with math. She taught fourth and fifth grade at St. Christopher from 1970 to 1976 and later taught music and PE at the school. She and her husband both attended the school — she graduated in 1962 — and sent their two sons there.

“Alumni have been so generous,” she said. “There are generations of families. … It becomes part of you. Fright night roller skating and teen dances. These are the things that spark community.”

Staff at St. Christopher School in Midlothian, from left, administrative assistant Patricia Powers, teacher and Assistant Principal Susan Calder, former teacher and current volunteer Evelyn Gleason and Principal Nicole Tzoumas, stand together near the school's front door. They'll be celebrating the school's 100th anniversary at an event May 18. (Melinda Moore/Daily Southtown)
Staff at St. Christopher School in Midlothian, from left, administrative assistant Patricia Powers, teacher and Assistant Principal Susan Calder, former teacher and current volunteer Evelyn Gleason and Principal Nicole Tzoumas, stand together near the school’s front door. They’ll be celebrating the school’s 100th anniversary at an event May 18. (Melinda Moore/Daily Southtown)

The school, where at one time 1,000 students roamed the halls even before it had a preschool, now has an enrollment of 213 in preschool through eighth grade.

“Families are having fewer kids,” Gleason said, adding that her husband was one of 12 siblings, and she was one of six.

“I was on the School Board and fought for preschool,” she said, noting that when she attended, they did double shifts and had portable classrooms in the parking lot.

Gleason said St. Christopher nearly didn’t make it to its 100th anniversary.

“In 2014, they were going to close the school. People came together with pledges, local families, to keep it open, because they knew the value of it,” she shared, noting lots of leaders have come out of the school, including two former Midlothian mayors, a police chief and the current fire chief. “Alumni have been so generous.”

Alumni – and anyone else with connections to the school – can celebrate its 100th anniversary during an event planned for May 18. It begins with a Mass at 4:30 p.m. at St. Augustine Parish followed by tours of the school at 14611 Keeler Ave. and activities in the gym along with food, drinks, a DJ and raffles. Advance tickets are required and cost $20 for adults and $10 for children younger than 16. They can be bought in the parish and school offices or online at StChrisSchool.org. None will be sold at the door.

Tzoumas said a big part of the celebration will be honoring Sister Laurinda Hefel — “the last nun to walk through St. Christopher” — who spent nearly 50 years at the school, which was founded by the Franciscan Sisters of Dubuque. “She was a kindergarten teacher for many years and then a librarian as she got older,” the principal explained.

Hefel had knee surgery but came back for the 2023-24 school year. But as she approaches age 80, this will be her last year at the school. “She just decided it was time,” Tzoumas said. “She cried and cried because she didn’t want (to retire).”

Students sit in a classroom at St. Christopher School in 1962 in Midlothian. The school's enrollment was its biggest during the 1960s and 1970s. The eighth grade graduating class of 1968 was its largest at 146 students. (St. Christopher School)
Students sit in a classroom at St. Christopher School in 1962 in Midlothian. The school’s enrollment was its biggest during the 1960s and 1970s. The eighth grade graduating class of 1968 was its largest at 146 students. (St. Christopher School)

Another person with deep roots to the school is administrative assistant Patricia Powers, who attended St. Christopher with her four siblings, including her twin sister, and sent all three of her children there. She’s worked there for 17 years.

“They get a good education. It’s good for their faith, even,” she said, pointing out that there’s a close relationship between the parish and the school.

“It’s smaller class sizes and more family oriented,” Powers said, adding that a lot of students go on to Bremen High School in Midlothian. “My girls were in the top 10% and my son was valedictorian at Bremen. The kids are really well-prepared for high school. For a couple of years, all the valedictorians at Bremen were from St. Christopher.”

Assistant Principal Susan Calder, who also teaches sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade social studies, has been with the Archdiocese of Chicago for 30 years. She attended St. Christopher with her nine siblings, graduating in 1981. “My mom had a kid in the school for 28 years!” she exclaimed. Gleason was her music teacher.

Calder said the school has embraced new technology.

“My chalkboard came down over the summer and I got a white board. I have a drawer full of chalk now,” she shared.

She described the school as “a home” because “it’s comfortable. As kids you didn’t think twice about it.” The summer carnival lasted for two weeks. “Everybody knew everybody. It was a vital part of the community.”

Calder said she is most looking forward to seeing “people from the past” at the anniversary celebration. “My brother is in his early 70s. His best friend is still his best friend from grammar school. … They all still talk and get together, and this is where that connection started.”

She remembers roller skating in the gym on Friday nights and the Scholastic reading program, known as SRA. “The sister joked it was her program because she had the same initials,” Calder said with a smile. The school has a similar program now, although it’s online.

St. Christopher students line up in the parking lot recently to celebrate the school being open for 100 years. (St. Christopher School)
St. Christopher students line up in the parking lot recently to celebrate the school being open for 100 years. (St. Christopher School)

The Rev. Robinson Ortiz, a priest at St. Augustine Parish, said the school is a success “because it has remained faithful to its core mission of educating children in the faith, keeping academic excellence and forming citizens with principles and values.”

He said the school is part of the parish and faith is a core principle. “Our parishioners love the school because many generations have been educated in this institution and recognize the importance of Catholic education in their lives. We share the celebration of the sacraments,” Ortiz shared. “For instance, we just had close to 90 Confirmations and almost 100 First Communions for students both in the church education program and the school.”

Faith plays an active role at the school. “The school community has a weekly Mass together with parishioners on Wednesdays. During the year, we celebrate confirmations, first communions, confessions, rosary, May Crowning, palm burning before Ash Wednesday, and stations of the cross,” Ortiz said. “In addition, the students participate in the weekly Mass by being part of the choir, reading, bringing the gifts and as extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist. At times I visit them in their classrooms to answer their questions and at lunchtime just to say hi.”

He’s looking forward to participating in the anniversary celebration.

“Celebrating 100 years is a privilege for everybody in the parish community and the community at large. We want to thank the Franciscans Sisters of Dubuque who kept their presence at the school for 100 years, especially with Sister Laurinda Hefel who just retired after almost 50 years of service,” Ortiz shared. “We expect to see many alumni and families who benefited from the century-long education offered at St. Christopher School.”

Tzoumas is proud of the school’s achievements and the team of teachers and staff she has, some of whom have worked for St. Christopher for more than 10 years. “I’m proud of how we work together. I wouldn’t be able to do my job without any of them,” she said. “They have to be passionate because you have to be to teach for this amount of money. They’re faithful and passionate.”

She’s also grateful for the school’s longevity and being able to upgrade it. “It’s a Catholic school, and a 100-year-old Catholic school. We have a lot of old things in this building but we’ve been able to fund smart boards, new desks and chairs and tables,” as well as renovating the gym.

She said getting donations will be the way to ensure the school’s legacy continues. “Having people support us. That is the biggest way – the support from the community and donors.” That’s the key to success in this business.”

Melinda Moore is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown. 


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