Notre Dame College Prep was the first educational venture in the Chicago Metropolitan area for the Priests of Holy Cross, Indiana Province.
His Eminence, Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago invited the Holy Cross Fathers to establish a school in this northern section of the Diocese. He wrote, “Everybody knows your teaching experience and everybody knows your devotion to Catholic youths."
In June, 1955, the Priests of the Holy Cross assigned 16 priests to begin the ministry of Catholic education at Notre Dame College Prep in Niles, Illinois. A team of dedicated lay men and women joined the priests in this ministry.
Education required a building, so on 30 acres of low-lying land, Rev. John Lane, CSC oversaw the construction of the building. What emerged was a sleek, modern educational facility.
It was Fr. Lane who supervised the first placement test for the initial students. This was held at St. Mary of the Woods Church. Fr. Lane operated for two years from a storefront office at the corner of Harlem and Dempster. It was from this small office that more than 500 freshmen and 300 sophomores found their way into the first Notre Dame classes.
One very significant event in the formation of Notre Dame was the appointment of Rev. James d'Autremont, CSC as the first principal.
Students must have a name to rally around and Fr. d’Autremont, after talking with students, decided on the name DONS. He did not want a school dedicated to Our Lady, Notre Dame, to rally around an animal name. He chose DONS because it is the Spanish word for “gentlemen.” Notre Dame students are the Gentlemen of Mary.
In 2006, the Congregation of Holy Cross ended their sponsorship of Notre Dame. Ownership was assumed by a board of lay people on January 1, 2007. The Archdiocese of Chicago placed the Catholicity of the school under the oversight of the Notre Dame Education Association, an Association of Christian Faithful, composed of the lay board and other members. Under this new leadership Notre Dame continued to grow and prosper.
On August 31, 2015, the Board of Notre Dame College Prep, Niles, Illinois announced that the school has returned to sponsorship by a religious order after nine years under lay leadership. The lay board was formed to assume leadership of the school after the Priests of Holy Cross ended their sponsorship in 2006 after more than 50 years. The transfer of sponsorship was approved by Chicago archbishop, Blase J. Cupich.
“This is a story of lay people stepping up to hold in trust a fine Catholic institution, nurturing its Catholicity in the Holy Cross tradition and helping it succeed by participating in a vibrant network of Catholic secondary schools,” said Blase J. Cupich, Archbishop of Chicago. ”The Church continues to benefit from strong lay leadership throughout the archdiocese and I am confident that the Board of Notre Dame College Prep will do everything to secure the school’s future, providing a successful model that can be replicated elsewhere.”
From 2006 to 2015, Notre Dame College Prep (NDCP) was led by an Association of Christian Faithful (ACF), a public juridic person which is a structure in canon law designed to function as religious orders once did in maintaining the Catholicity of an institution or ministry. Anticipated in the Second Vatican Council but rarely implemented until recent times, the structure has been used as a governance option for hospitals, schools and other Catholic institutions. The ACF appointed a lay executive board that, in turn, managed the operations of the school. Under lay leadership NDCP grew in enrollment and refurbished and added to the physical plant. It also added one of the first Catholic secondary school programs in the nation for young men with mild to moderate cognitive disabilities. It has strengthened academic offerings for young men at all levels of academic potential and standard test scores have increased to unprecedented levels.
“From the first days of lay leadership we have worked to not merely preserve NDCP but to make it a model of excellence in inclusive Catholic education,” said Peter Newell, ‘67, chair of the executive board. “And we never lost our devotion to the Holy Cross education mission of educating the heart as well as the mind.”
Inspired by the teachings of founder Blessed Basil Moreau, CSC, Brothers of Holy Cross have carried out an educational mission for almost two centuries. Their education model of faith, scholarship and service can be seen in 17 high schools and two institutions of higher learning across the United States. The Holy Cross Institute, headquartered at their St. Edward University in Austin, Texas, is dedicated to helping their education ministries grow in their commitment to the Holy Cross charism and in their quest for academic excellence.
“We are delighted to welcome Notre Dame College Prep back to the Holy Cross family of educational ministries,” said Brother Chester Freel, CSC, Provincial Superior of the Midwest Province of the Brothers of Holy Cross. “It is clear from our visits and review of the school’s programs that they have been guided by the charism of Holy Cross and have remained faithful to our way of educating young people at this critical time in their formation.”
The Archbishop approved the transfer of sponsorship on August 17, 2015 with a letter to Brother Chester and the school. The transfer was celebrated with a Mass in January of 2016 at the school.
“The school welcomed another large freshman class this year. Our dedication to inclusive education dictates that we make a Notre Dame College Prep education available to as many families as we can,” said Ralph Elwart, school president. “Clearly families are recognizing the value of the education and character formation we offer and we intend to respond with more creative ways to make them available.”