by Peter N. Pero
Reviewed by Gordon Nary
I saw a great review of Soul Survivors in the Gazette, Since I attended a Catholic high school in another city, I didn't know anything about the schools in Chicago. I have now learned to trust anything that I read in the Gazette. This book is an exceptional treasure, concisely written with series of short essays on each school with an amazing series of photos from each school which recall proms, football teams, an experiment gone wrong in a physics lab, a visit by Hillary Clinton at one of the schools, a class in Chinese, a hockey game, a manual typing class, and many, many more fascinating memories. This is a Chicago Catholic A la recherche du temps perdu.
The schools featured are St, Patrick High School, Mother McAuley Liberal Arts High School, St. Ignatius College Prep.Josephinum Academy of the Sacred Heart, St. Rita of Cascia High School, Holy Trinity High School, Brother Rice High School, St. Benedict Preparatory School, Our Lady of Tepeyac High School, Fenwick High School, DePaul College Prep,and Cristo Rey Jesuit High School.
Peter opens the book with this dedication
"This book is dedicated to The Catholic Sisters and Brothers who taught lessons and built high schools brick by brick,"
and provides an overview of the challenges that once faced more than fifty Chicago high schools that have dwindled down to about a dozen today. He details the factors that have contributed to their decline, somewhat parallel to the factors that have contributed to the decline in parish membership and the growing consolidations of parishes in Chicago, nationally, and internationally.
I learned much from this book - some of the successful funding strategies, commitment to new technology, graduates who have won Pulitzer Prizes in Literature, graduates who are leading officers in major corporations, the challenges of immigrant education, and especially character building, which in my opinion may be the most important contribution of these schools to our society. It could be a sin of omission for any parent and any student currently in these schools or who may be considering one of these schools not to read this book.
I am reminded of G. K. Chesterton's reflection on history
"The disadvantage of men not knowing the past is that they do not know the present. History is a hill or high point of vantage from which alone men see the town in which they live or the age in which they are living. Without some such contrast or comparison, without some such shifting of the point of view, we should see nothing whatever of our social surroundings."
G. K. Chesterton June 18, 1932, Illustrated London News
Peter Pero has stood on the hill, and has seen much, and has taught us much. We need more men and women to climb that hill, to see and reflect upon our history, and help us better understand how our history can teach us much about ourselves and the potential of our society with the training and moral leadership so critical to fulfill all of the potential of our present and future.
Chicagoans and Chicago visitors can also purchase the book at St. Paul's Bookstore on West Belmont Avenue.