The 90th Anniversary of St. Michael’s DHS
by Bro. Jim Smith CFX ‘60
I n the fall of 1926, St. Michael’s welcomed its first students. In many ways this was an historical event and this article will concentrate on why it was so monumental. St. Michael, Bishop Loughlin, (located at St. Augustine) and St. James (located at the present Pro Cathedral) were the first diocesan high schools in the entire country. They all opened as diocesan schools in September of 1926. Before 1926, Bishop Loughlin was a parish high school in St. Augustine’s parish. When the present Bishop Loughlin High School was built in 1933, the name of this new diocesan high school became Bishop Loughlin and the
former Bishop Loughlin High School became St. Augustine. If you were a player on one of Bishop Loughlin’s teams in the early 1930s, you were asked to change your uniform to St. Augustine and play against Bishop Loughlin (confusing).
The background on the founding of this diocesan system is interesting. Of course the early 1900s saw an historic wave of immigrants to Brooklyn. Where were these immigrants going to settle? The population of Brooklyn was centered close to the East River in Red Hook and downtown Brooklyn. With the extension of the subway system into Sunset Park and
Bay Ridge, the Bishop rightly guessed that they would follow this subway line. Consequently, most of the churches in Bay Ridge were built in the 1920s. Up to that point Bay Ridge and Sunset Park consisted of mostly small farms with very little population. The Bishop of Brooklyn then asked “what about a Catholic high school for these immigrants?”
Because the grammar schools had no tuition, the Bishop decided to ask the parishes to subsidize these diocesan high schools. With the burden of supporting these schools, the Bishop decided to put education first and not build a cathedral at the time. The phrase used was that he was going to build a “Cathedral of Living Stones.” The money was going to education and not to a cathedral.
In 1933, Archbishop Molloy recognized the potential growth of the newly built Prospect Park, so he decided to build what is now Bishop Loughlin High School on land that was available. This school was close to the park and had both the IRT and BMT subways close by. In the case of St. Michael’s, the Brothers thought that the Bishop would build a new St.
Michael’s across Fourth Avenue, the site of the eventual courthouse. With the stock market crash of 1929, this plan was no longer able to be funded.
St. Michael’s opened its doors in 1926 with one hundred and fifty students that were accepted as part of that opening class. Due to the midyear promotions in those days, Brothers Justus and Ralph were added to the staff in February and one hundred forty students were enrolled as midyear freshmen. By February 1928 the school had increased to four hundred fifty students. With only ten classrooms available, the school had to stop its growth in registration. There was an indication that the Brothers thought that a new building would be built soon.
As far as the overall diocesan planning mentioned above, Bishop McDonnell advanced the plan and his successor Archbishop Molloy created the eventual diocesan system.
The beginning years of St. Michael’s was most challenging for all concerned. What the first class experienced during this time was a series of ups and downs. Most of the disruptions mentioned below were caused by the consequences of the stock market crash of 1929.
- All of the Brooklyn schools were able to use a nearby ice rink, so the first class did have a hockey team. The league was later dissolved when the rink was no longer available.
- The varsity basketball team in 1929 had to cancel its season because they had no place to practice. Later they moved to St. Athanasius for their practice.
- Babe Ruth was a personal friend of the principal, Brother Samuel, who also had a blood brother, Brother Gilbert, (also a Xaverian Brother) who discovered Ruth. Babe would often visit Bro. Samuel and donated all the baseballs for the baseball team. In those days he did not sign these baseballs because he did not realize the eventual value of signed baseballs. If he only knew.
- The school had a swimming team that practiced in the armory. This pool eventually closed and they began practicing in the Knights of Columbus pool.
- John Kershaw ’30 won a $2 prize for his selection of the name “Michaelog” as the name of the first student newspaper.
- Brother Samuel hired Joe Kottmann to run the track team- Joe was the only man to coach under all of St. Mike’s principals. Joe had a very successful run as the track coach, winning many championships.
When we look back at the history of St. Michael’s, and all the struggles it went through, we now know why it is called the “School That Will Not Die."