Trinity High School, in the Sinsinawa Dominican tradition, challenges young women to seek faith, knowledge and truth.
The school community guides young women in developing skills for lifelong learning, an ethic of care and the desire for excellence.
Each student is recognized as unique. In a nurturing, Catholic, college preparatory environment, she is encouraged to become self-directed toward responsible participation in the global community in order to impact society, Church and family in the twenty-first century.
History of Trinity
The Trinity Story
by Sue Vrechek, THS Archivist
Lest we forget — Before the history of this courageous and visionary adventure is recounted, we must revisit the status of women legally and otherwise at the beginning of the twentieth century. Education in the United States was not universal. Most people had not graduated from eighth grade. Approximately ten percent of the population had completed high school. In fact, the last state, Mississippi, did not make compulsory education mandatory until 1925. Women were not allowed to vote nationally until the Presidential election of 1920. The last state to pass laws to allow married women to have legal control of most of their money, property and children or be allowed to initiate a law suit was not until 1900. The Sinsinawa Dominican sisters were not allowed to drive themselves until the mid 1960s. Into this world a group of pioneer sisters from the Sinsinawa Order of Dominican Sisters in Wisconsin proposed to establish a high school for girls in River Forest, Illinois.
In July 1917, five Sinsinawa Dominican sisters traveled from the Mound in southwestern Wisconsin to found a Catholic college for girls. The thirty acres of property that the sisters bought on the northwestern edge of River Forest was to become Rosary College and eventually Dominican University. This was during World War I when money was very tight. The sisters knew that they did not have the funds to begin building on the land they had just purchased but there was an existing large house, barn and a small summer house on the property. To avoid paying taxes on the property, the sisters decided to begin a high school, christened Rosary House, in these existing buildings. The Sinsinawa Dominican sisters were shrewd businesswomen.
The sisters had one year to clean, organize, supply and recruit students for their school. They started with few material comforts such as furniture and dishes but had an overabundance of books. There were so many books that they were used as furniture. They also inherited a “big old telescope of pre-historic pattern” which may have been the telescope Fr. Mazzuchelli purchased for St. Clara Academy in 1852.
The sisters also inherited and acquired animals. The first addition was Bob the dog. He refused to leave with the McGurn family, who originally owned the property, and remained with the sisters as their “doorbell.” There were some very territorial chickens in the backyard and Verna the cow who was transported by train (mightily protesting) from the Mound. A family of ducks, Paul, Virginia and their offspring, who were on a perpetual quest for the Des Plaines River, completed the menagerie.
Recruiting students for the new school was not easy at first. Mothers were wary of sending their daughters so far to what seemed like a wilderness. Plus, the tuition was pretty high at $2.00 a month (including lunch and bus fare). By September 1918, fifteen girls were enrolled. They were called the Fortunate Fifteen, one for each mystery of the rosary. Classes were held in the two front rooms of the house or on the front porch if the weather was good. Lunch was served in the community room and the study hall was on the second floor.
Fifteen happier girls never entered their first year of school! They loved Rosary House and they loved their temperamental transportation provided by an ancient Ford bus and former pie wagon they named Maria. The program of studies included Religion, Latin, English, History, Algebra and Geometry. The one extra curricular activity was called Physical Culture and consisted of calisthenics. It was a daily noonday task held on the wide porch of the house.
Each year a grade level was added and the student population quickly outgrew Rosary House. The cornerstone was laid for Rosary College on June 6, 1920. As soon as the first building of Rosary College had a roof over it, some of the Rosary House students were moved into it. The bus that succeeded Maria, Old Reliable, not only provided transportation but also doubled as a classroom. There was no gymnasium so the outdoor sports of baseball and croquet were popular with the students. Basketball was quickly added (the girls preferred to play boys’ rules) followed by tennis in 1923.
By 1922, Rosary House was a four year high school with their first graduating class of twenty-eight. That same year Rosary House was accredited and admitted to the North Central Association of Colleges and High Schools. In 1922, Rosary House established the first Girl Scout troop in River Forest. Every year the students would perform a Shakespearean play. The first one, the “Fairy Scene” from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, took place out of doors on an evening in May 1919.
The school year of 1923-1924 saw an ever growing and enriching school experience. There now were four clubs, Athletic, Dramatic, Camera and Annual (Yearbook) as well as the newly formed RHS Alumnae Club.
Long before 1926 it became evident that a new and larger school was needed. In 1924 the sisters purchased one half of the block at Division and Lathrop just down the street from Rosary House. Trinity High School was organized and received a charter from the Illinois Secretary of State on October 20, 1925. The school’s name was changed because state laws did not allow two corporations with the same name. Construction began in April 1926 and the new Trinity High School opened its doors in September 1926. Everything was basically finished even if the newly varnished floors were still a little sticky. In October the village closed Division Street so trucks could move the sisters and their few possessions to the front lobby of Trinity High School. The new building was large, strange and mortgaged. The sisters from Sinsinawa, Wisconsin began again. In less than seven years their new school had grown from the Fortunate Fifteen to 275 students. The new school could accommodate 450 students.
By 1925 Trinity consisted of the previously mentioned 275 students, thirteen sisters and two lay teachers.The new school included classrooms as well as science labs, a library, an indoor gymnasium-auditorium, chapel and convent. There was also an athletic field north of the school which had a tennis court, baseball diamond, horseshoe pits and an archery range. The move also prompted an explosion of clubs including: the Art Club, French Club, Music (Cecilian) Club, Glee Club and the first Mothers’ Club. The Latin Club, Sodality Union, an orchestra, Chemistry Club and a Physics Club (the Ions) were also added by 1929. There were five departments: Scholastic, Athletic, Music, Art and Expression.
In September 1933, Trinity began publication of a newspaper called the This’n That or the TNT. The TNT took the place of the yearbook and was published monthly. The TNT featured a “scoop” interview with Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of the President, Franklin D. Roosevelt. That same school year, Trinity was granted a charter from the Quill and Scroll, the international honor society for high school journalists. The National Scholastic Press Association awarded Trinity a first class rating. At a time in U.S. educational history when only 33% of the adult population had ever been enrolled in high school, THS was sending approximately 75% of its students on to college.
In September 1940, ground was broken for the new addition of a west wing to the school. It included ten classrooms, twenty rooms for living quarters for the sisters, a cafeteria and an elevator. Enrollment was over 600 students. THS had its first Vocation Week to expose students to traditional as well as non-traditional career opportunities available to women. With the advent of World War II in December 1941, Trinity students, who now numbered 700, demonstrated their spirit of service to their country. As World War II progressed the students sold an incredible amount of War Bonds and Stamps and were frequently recognized by the U.S. government for their efforts.
By the end of the war the students raised an unbelievable total of $1,500,000 ($17,700,000 in 2008 dollars) for the war effort.
This effort purchased two pursuit bombers, four ambulance planes, 132 field jeeps, one B-25 Mitchell Medium Bomber, two Curtiss Helldiver dive bombers, five scout trainers and forty hospital units. One pursuit bomber they named the Joan of Arc and two of the hospital planes were named St. Michael the Archangel and The Trinity. Before the war ended there was some tongue-in-cheek discussion of purchasing an aircraft carrier! With the Trinity spirit that might not have been such an impossible idea.
The year 1949 saw another leap of faith. The sisters decided to purchase the eastern half of the block for $60,000. The $60,000 was borrowed from the Saint Clara Convent of Sinsinawa and THS was to pay them back at a rate of about $25,000 a year. However, Sr. Benita of the Mound wrote Sr. Rose Catherine of Trinity that, “If you should find it easier to repay only $20,000 annually, you know we would not send you to jail for any default.”
The 1950s was remarkable for its scholastic achievements that would reverberate through the succeeding decades. In 1956, THS participated, for the first time, in the National Merit Scholarship program. Eleven Trinity students were permitted to participate. There were three semi-finalists the first year. All three went on to win Certificates of Merit. By 1960, and after only three years in the program, THS had two National Merit Finalists.
In August 1961, ground was broken for a new addition on the land purchased in 1949. This ambitious undertaking included an auditorium, language lab, choral room, art room, science labs and a separate convent. The new addition was completed and dedicated in April 1963. In 1968, Trinity’s Golden Jubilee year, the faculty consisted of thirty-seven sisters, twenty-four lay teachers, two priests and a student population of 1,200 along with a fifty year heritage of extraordinary education and achievement.
Not content to rest on its heritage and history, Trinity continued to change with the times. The new addition to the building and the rapidly changing times of the 1960s brought a whole new look and feel to THS. The popularity of the Beatles paved the way for music in the cafeteria during lunch periods. The curriculum changed to modular scheduling and the sisters began wearing modified habits or secular clothing. They also began driving automobiles in the mid-sixties. The old green gabardine uniforms the students had worn for years were replaced by more modern pleated skirts and blazers. The traditional senior trip to Washington D.C., was acquiring an international flavor as the students also traveled to various countries in Europe. As the cosmopolitan Trinity girls became world travelers, new vistas were opened to them which heightened their cultural awareness.
With the influence of the women’s movement in the 1970s, Trinity’s already solid college preparatory curriculum was modified to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing society. The administration became a team effort with four administrators sharing responsibilities. Trinity continued to stress academic excellence and encouraged its students to develop their full potential and personal strengths. The success of this effort was represented by the awards, scholarships and other types of academic and extra-curricular recognition the students were given.
During the late 1980s Trinity introduced its first Advisory Board. In the fall of 1990, Trinity formed the Board of Directors to formulate policy and direct the major decisions regarding THS.
In October 1993, the Trinity community, faculty, alumnae, students and guests proudly welcomed Joseph Cardinal Bernadin in celebration of seventy-five years of excellence in women’s education. THS now offered its students 130 courses in diverse fields and had produced forty-four National Merit Scholars since 1956.
Trinity’s tradition of academic excellence continued with the introduction of the prestigious International Baccalaureate Diploma program or the IB program. Inaugurated in 1994, the IB program encompasses a rigorous pre-university course of studies designed as a two-year curriculum covering six academic areas. In addition to the traditional liberal arts curriculum, the IB Diploma program requires that students take a Theory of Knowledge class (where students learn of the interpretative nature of knowledge), fulfill a 150 hour service requirement and write a 4,000 word essay on a topic of their choice. Colleges and universities award credit upon the result of student exams. Currently 90% of Trinity’s full-time IB students have earned an IB Diploma as compared to the national average of 80%. More about our academic programs…
Block Scheduling, a new type of scheduling based on the collegiate model, was inaugurated in 1995. Instead of seven or eight courses per day, the Block Schedule allows students to take three to four intensive courses per semester as is the normal course of studies in college. Over the school year, they may earn eight full credits without the stress of handling eight courses at one time. Students are required to earn a minimum of twenty-eight credit hours before graduation. Trinity was the first Catholic school in the Chicago Archdiocese to offer this program.
Trinity anticipated the next millennium in 1998 by updating their technology tools. The Computer Center was renovated and a state of the art Technology Center was completed. The technology tools now offered to the students allow them to give powerful expression to their learning and enable them to explore vast new worlds. While THS still may be physically anchored at the corner of Division and Lathrop, its students and teachers are connected to people, events and information around the world.
In the early 2000s the library and chapel were renovated and refurbished and in 2003 the Sr. Michelle Germanson, O.P., Athletic Facility was built. It was the first building constructed on Trinity’s grounds since 1962.
By choosing to remain a single-gender school, Trinity affirms its commitment to the needs of young women, challenging and preparing them to be tomorrow’s leaders. Our graduates have been and will continue to be innovative, productive and leading members in all aspects of our society. The lessons they have learned at THS have helped them build successful careers, loving families and better communities. Trinity alumnae truly make a difference.
The Trinity community charges its students and faculty to think, work and play with the exuberance and energy that motivated many dedicated women to see a dream become a reality. Trinity still embodies the same spirit of those first Fortunate Fifteen girls and the same dedication of the pioneer sisters who began Rosary House High School in 1918. This spirit and dedication to education, leadership and faith will guide Trinity High School to its 100th anniversary in the year 2018 and many years beyond.