Providence High School: From almost nothing to really something.

In January of 1974 this item appeared in the Orland Park Herald:

orland_heraldigWhy is this significant? Let’s take a trip through a baseball time machine and focus on how Providence High School came from almost nothing to really something.

The first time modern professional sports fans actually got to witness a true Three-peat was during the 1972-74 magical run of the Oakland Athletics. Fans from back in the day will recall the highlight reels of mustachioed superstars in green and gold flying around baseball diamonds with all the rage and fury of those times. Flash forward to the 2016 IHSA State Finals at Silver Cross Field and baseball fans can watch a furious green and gold team whipping around the bases and into fences amid a plethora of high-fives and hugs. The 2016 Providence Celtics are forging their own historic #HISTO3.

Tonight Silver Cross Field will be jammed with an ecstatic green and gold horde holding its breath on every pitch – not with the dread and fear of anxiety – but with the anticipation and appreciation of victory. Who knows what will happen against a determined Mundelein squad? But this Providence team, led by its irrepressible Head Coach Mark Smith, is unafraid of the outcome. And why should they be? The Providence community has faced much more formidable adversity than trying to win an unprecedented three 4A State Championships in a row.


Enmity and Adversity

There is, and always has been, a palpable mistrust and degree of loathing for Catholic high schools in athletic competition. If you sit back and think about it this is a perfectly understandable situation. Nothing makes an individual, or group, more defensive than being left out by something they don’t or can’t understand. Sure, all Illinois high school sports fans can debate the merits, or demerits, of shady “recruiting.” That’s the most common complaint emanating from the public school sector. And that is perfectly understandable. There’s no question about it – Catholic high schools in Will County and around the state are not limited by state definitions of “district.”

celtic_nation However, schools like Providence and Joliet Catholic Academy, have always faced their own struggles for identity and existence. In the case of Providence, their history actually includes the threat and reality of closure due to lack of funding. Catholic schools aren’t allocated the boom or bust of funding that accompanies property tax hikes that everyone can understand. Many public schools can testify to the harsh realities of under funding; but Catholic schools can tell you about their own existential struggles. One thing remains true: they can always tap the steely determination of their community for private funding when no one else will help.

Touch and Go

stmarysProvidence’s history goes back to 1880 when the Sisters of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (IBVM) from Toronto, Canada decided to establish St. Mary’s Academy. Eight students were enrolled in the all-girls institution.

The “Ladies of Loretto” (a nickname for the IBVM sisters) continued to educate the young ladies of the Joliet area, most of which were studying to take the state teaching exam. However, the order’s numbers dwindled in Joliet around the time during World War I in order to meet needs in other locations, so they decided to close the school in 1918. (The school was closed again in 1931 due the Great Depression.)
Illinois High School Glory Days

The school building was turned over to the Sisters of Providence, who renamed the school Providence High School and continued to operate in the same location until 1959 when the building was declared unsafe.

Providence Catholic High School, as it stands now in New Lenox, was built in 1962. But a new school wasn’t enough of a foundation to stave off the threat of closure.

By 1969, however, financial problems threatened to close Providence. The number of students was shrinking while the costs of education were rising. The Save Our School struggle appeared in the Chicago Daily News, Thurs., Nov. 21, 1968, when students raised the first $30,000 selling 25 cent chances. In that year, 557 students at Providence had helped save a six-year-old school from extinction.
Sisters of Providence, or Saint Mary-of-the-Woods

From There to Here

During the 1977-78 school year the Providence Athletic Department decided to put its foot down on the IHSA record book; and they continue to place its footprints all over the black and white ink of IHSA history. In the spring of 1978 Providence won its first state championship in baseball. But that was just the exclamation point on a calendar year that produced state champions in wrestling and girl’s track and field. The message was sent loud and clear: “Look out.” By 2016 Providence had won 29 State Championships. Number 30 would be 3×10.

happySo, Illinois high school sports fans can wring their hands and complain about the unfairness of it all. And, it is true, every community has a story to tell about existential threats to their identity. Real life crashes in on all sides. The modern educational world is under assault from myriad threats. Just remember – before you nurse that latent hatred of all things Catholic in high school sports – those schools face the same whims and shortcomings of their bureaucracies. So, for today, let’s all just sit back and appreciate the excellence on display from Providence and Mundelein under the bright lights of IHSA competition tonight at Silver Cross.

Mundelein vs. Providence: Saturday night 7:00 at Silver Cross Field, Joliet.

All baseball photos courtesy of; on Twitter @pjbphotos.

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