Ghost Building: The St. John Cantius School

Today, I found another ghost building in the West Town area. It is building for the Chicago Academy of the Arts. Over the entrance, the words “St. John Cantius School” have been etched into the building.

It is next to the still active St. John Cantius Parish, a Polish Catholic church that goes back to the 1890s when the community petitioned the pastor of St. Stanislaus Kostka for a new church in 1892. Construction started in 1893 by architect Adolphus Druiding but due to financial issues, it wasn’t completed until 1898. The school appears to have been started around the same time and staffed by Mother Caroline Friess of the School Sisters of the Notre Dame. When it opened in 1893, there were 150 children. I think the building named for the school was opened in 1903.

Construction of Ogden road and the later construction of the Kennedy Expressway (along with the Great Depression) all dealt blows to the parish and the school. In 1943, only 376 students attended the parish church. Due to falling enrollment, the last class to graduate was 1963. The school was rented by a Montessori organization and eventually the Archdiocese. In 1989/1990 (accounts differ), the building began to be used by the Chicago Academy of Arts.

The Academy has its own intriguing start. Larry Jordan, a CPS high school teacher, was dismayed by the lack of arts education in Chicago and decided along with other like minded people to open a school dedicated to the arts. When it opened its doors in 1981, it was first housed in a building part of the Old St. Patrick’s Church on DesPlaines Avenue. Eventually they moved into the old Parish school and renamed itself to its present name.

So an interesting intersection of two histories: that of Polish Catholic community and that of the arts minded community of Chicago. Not bad for a ghost building.


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