At 95, St. Norberts looks back on a rich history
St. Norbert School Principal Kimberly Rich (left) and Assistant Principal Cathy Goll look at memorabilia collected while preparing to celebrate the school's 95th anniversary. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 1, 2013 6:35AM
NORTHBROOK — St. Norbert Roman Catholic School, which will celebrate its 95th anniversary Wednesday (Jan. 30), has survived for almost a century, because of a strong sense of faith, community and values.
To commemorate the occasion, hundreds of alumni will attend an 8:30 a.m. Anniversary Mass at St. Norbert Church, walk through time viewing years of memorabilia at the school and participate in a dinner dance at 6 p.m.
Rev. Robert Heinz, pastor of the parish, said he believes the school has endured, because the faith and quality education has been “hand in glove” – equally important to the people.
“Students get all the subjects taught to them that they would in public school, but education here differs from public school, because they also get the tradition of the Catholic faith taught to them as well,” he added.
“And the kids do very well, whether they go to Glenbrook North, Loyola or Regina. Last May, all eight of the St. Norbert students who graduated from high school graduated cum laude or summa cum laude.”
Kimberly Rich, the school’s principal and a Northbrook resident, believes that the school has lasted so long because it has a strong tie to the families of its students.
“We have quite a few students who are children of alumni. Northbrook is one of these communities where people come back to raise their families. In fact, we have second and third generations,” Rich said. “Also, there is real value in Catholic education. It will always be around in one format or another.”
The way the curriculum is taught has changed greatly with enhancements of technology, text books and classroom settings since the school opened. Also, the interaction between students and teachers is much different. There was a much more formal environment with the nuns, she added.
“Everyone sat up straight, behaved and learned their lessons. Now staff members may say ‘Let’s look it up.’ There is a much more hands-on, creative approach now with our 250 students,” Rich said.
Carol Cox, a Northbrook resident who has been employed by the school about 26 years, 21 of them as a first-grade teacher, said she chose to work here because faith development is so important.
“There is a long term value for children in a parochial school, which has to do with values and faith,” she said. “It addresses the way a person is to live life, as well as academics. It’s more focused and has a sense of discipline. There is a feeling that you fit. It is more than a job to me – it’s a ministry.”
According to the history prepared by Cox and Michael Daly, a school advisory board member, Northfield Township was a sparsely-settled farming community with fewer than 25 Catholic families when the Society of the Divine Word missionaries arrived in 1898 from Style, Holland.
The Society was incorporated in Illinois March 11, and on June 25 it purchased the 337-acre Russell Farm for $41,000. The Russell family also donated some land, all of which remained unincorporated until 1988 when Northbrook annexed 778 acres of the Divine Word properties.
In 1917, George Cardinal Mundelein authorized the construction of a church and school on the east side of Glenview Avenue (now Waukegan Road) north of the Divine Word Missionaries Seminary.
Two classrooms were on the first floor and a chapel on the second. And at that time, the parish’s name changed from the Mission of the Holy Spirit to St. Norbert.
By 1930, two nuns were teaching 46 students in eight grades. By 1940, the parish had grown to 110 families with 67 students at the school.
Because the Northfield Township population doubled and redoubled, Samuel Cardinal Stritch decided that St. Norbert Parish should be relocated from Techny to Northbrook. So in 1945, Rev. Charles Haefner, SVD, the pastor of St. Norbert Parish, made a $500 down-payment toward the $20,000 purchase price of land on Walters Avenue.
Ground was broken April 22, 1948, for the first buildings, which today form the St. Norbert parish campus. Besides a rectory, there was a school with seven classrooms, an all-purpose room and a small chapel accommodating 200.
The post war building boom hit Northbrook in the 1950s, and six classrooms and a gymnasium/auditorium were added in 1952. School enrollment grew from 525 in 1953 to 640 in 1954. In 1958, four new classrooms were added, giving the school a total of 24 classrooms.
By 1960, St. Norbert Parish consisted of 1,300 families. St. Norbert School enrollment reached a capacity of 1,158 students and was staffed by 13 Sisters of St. Casimir and nine lay teachers.
But by 1990, although there were 1,883 families registered, only 359 children were enrolled in the school. And in 1999, there were 2,160 families with 425 students in school. In 2003, a new building was dedicated which included Grace Hall and a new junior high facility.
Now, the school is looking toward 2017 when it will celebrate its 100th anniversary.