Saint Thomas Aquinas Academy History

St. Thomas Aquinas Academy is a Catholic school filled with rich history.  Over the last 140 years of its existence, the school has been formerly known as St. Mary’s Institute, Our Lady of Lourdes and Marinette Catholic Central.  In 2005 a new Academy was formed to include students from Pre K through 12th grade, re-establishing its roots as a K-12 school while known as Our Lady of Lourdes.  St. Mary Pre K-8 School in Peshtigo, Holy Family K-8 School in Marinette combined with Marinette Catholic Central High School to form the new “St. Thomas Aquinas Academy” serving the tri-cities communities in Northeast Wisconsin and upper Michigan (Peshtigo, Marinette and Menominee Michigan).

The History of Marinette Catholic Central High School

The history of Marinette Catholic Central High School reveals a community’s enduring perseverance and dedication to its belief in Catholic education. For over a century, Catholic Central has withstood many struggles, controversies, and numerous consolidation processes, but above all it has continued to provide a quality Catholic education for students who value this privilege. Although Catholic Central has formerly been known by the names of its predecessors, which include St. Mary’s Institute and Our Lady of Lourdes High School, its basic purpose in the community has remained the same. This school is here today for the same reason it was here in 1876-to educate the minds of young people and to help them shape their lives by means of a unique and distinctive setting that can only be found in a Catholic school. The community’s steadfast belief in the value of Catholic education has been the key to establishing and maintaining Marinette Catholic Central High School.

St. Mary’s Institute

St. Mary’s Institute was the early beginning of what is now known as Marinette Catholic Central High School. In 1876, four School Sisters of Notre Dame opened this all-girls’ school under the approval of Bishop Francis Xavier Krautbauer. It began with forty pupils in grades one through twelve and served as a day school for local students and a boarding school for students from Southeast Wisconsin and the Chicago area (Mullins 6). In 1883, Our Lady of Lourdes parish built its own school, which was located next to St. Mary’s Institute on the site of what is now the present Catholic Central High School. This was called Our Lady of Lourdes School and educated students in grades one through twelve (Greenwood 2). Soon, however, the Catholic community realized it could not support two Catholic high schools. As a result, in 1905 St. Mary’s Institute was forced to close its doors (Mullins 6), despite the deep regret of its students and teachers. The following year, St. Mary’s students enrolled at Out Lady of Lourdes.

Our Lady of Lourdes
Our Lady of Lourdes Academy

The building first constructed in 1883 continued to serve as Our Lady of Lourdes High School until January of 1911 when the Lourdes congregation, under the head of Rev. G. G. Tulley, decided that a new school building would be required to meet the needs of its growing population. The cornerstone of this new building (the present Marinette Catholic Central High School) was laid by Bishop Joseph Fox on July 30, 1911, and classes resumed here the following year (Greenwood 2). The new building contained twelve classrooms and a chapel. There was also a gymnasium, but because of its small size, the Lourdes Shamrocks (as their school’s sport teams were then known) often held their sporting events in the Marinette High School gym (Greenwood 2).

In 1926, an important step was made in the way of achieving a higher quality education at Lourdes High School, for it was in this year that the school applied to become accredited by the University of Wisconsin system (“Brief Chronicle” 5). Because many students who were graduating from Lourdes at this time were finding it difficult to enter colleges or universities, the school decided it must meet the necessary requirements for acceptance as a state-accredited school in order to provide its students with college opportunities. These requirements, which included the installation of a new science laboratory and the addition of one more teacher to the high school staff, were met at once; Our Lady of Lourdes High School was now officially accredited by the University of Wisconsin system (“A Sketch” 5)

By 1954, enrollment in the school had greatly increased, and the need for expansion once again was evident, so the parish voted to construct a new gymnasium (Greenwood 2). The new addition officially opened on January 6, 1955, during a basketball game between Lourdes and Menasha St. Mary’s. The gym also served as another major source of revenues for the school once it was announced that the specially constructed floor could be used for roller-skating; thus, the Shamrock Roller Rink opened in April of 1955 (Greenwood 2).

Catholic Central High School

Perhaps the greatest highlight in the school’s history came in 1958. On April 6 of this year, Bishop Stanislaus V. Bona (“Central”) announced in a letter read to the people of all four Marinette Catholic parishes that Our Lady of Lourdes School would no longer serve as a high school. Instead, the building would be called Marinette Catholic Central High School, and would be operated by all four parishes including Lourdes, St. Anthony, St. Joseph, and Sacred Heart (“Central”). Lourdes students in grades one through eight would be moved to the former Park School building which was purchased from the city, and a new Lourdes parish building would be built near the grade school on the city’s west side. The former Lourdes church located next to the high school would serve as the school’s chapel, and the convent (formerly St. Mary’s Institute) and the rectory would serve as housing for the high school faculty (“Central”).

After the school was renamed, it continued to prosper and grow. One of the reasons for this prosperity was the success of new school organizations such as Windsor Players, which was founded in 1958 by Harold Zahorik, a former English teacher at Catholic Central (Moon 6). Success also came in the form of athletics, for in 1964 the boys’ basketball team won its first state championship title. Years later, the girls’ basketball team won four consecutive state championships from 1981 to 1984, and won back-to-back titles in 1992 and 1993. The school also earned numerous state championships in both volleyball and baseball.

By the 1970’s, the number of priests and sisters on faculty had considerably decreased, and the convent (the former St. Mary’s Institute building) was no longer needed to provide housing for them. Instead, the convent was renamed Seton Hall and first served as an additional school building in 1975 (“Will Raze”). At this time, Seton Hall housed a general classroom, a guidance office, a journalism room, a chapel-meeting room, a costume shop for the Windsor Players, a sewing room, a home economics room, and a bookstore.  The original Our Lady of Lourdes church building, formerly located behind the present school building, was also used for other purposes at this time. The church basement served as a hot lunch room, and the main level served as a music room and recital hall; however, both the former St. Mary’s Institute building and the church were razed in the summer of 1978, and the activities they housed were required to move elsewhere (“Will Raze”).

The above information is merely a brief description the rich history of St. Thomas Aquinas Academy and of what is known as the oldest parochial high school in Wisconsin.  The school’s long, successful history is filled with countless years of service, dedication and appreciation for the power of the spirit alive in at the Academy. This has evolved through a sense of pride in both Catholic Christian identity and in the values, education, and feeling of belonging that a student receives here. The spirit has overcome all obstacles in its path and continues to burn brightly in the lives of all it touches.

**A written copy of this paper is available with sources at Saint Thomas Aquinas Academy Secondary Campus.