Br. Hank Hammer remembers riding a skateboard down the second-floor hallway of the monastery at Marist High School.
Hammer arrived at the monastery at 4200 W. 115th St. in 1973. At the time, there were 36 Marist Brothers living in the vibrant monastery in Mount Greenwood. The average age of the residents was 26 years old.
The last two occupants moved out of the 30,000-square-foot monastery last month. The advancement offices for the high school and the Marist Brothers Provincial Development Office that were once there have been relocated too.
The vacant building will soon be gutted, paving the way for an $11.5 million science center. Ten classrooms will be added as part of the project, as well as an astronomy dome.
“We really want our kids to be able to do hands-on learning,” said Principal Larry Tucker.
The addition will give the school with 1,650 students 20 percent more academic space and consolidate the science labs now spread throughout the campus into one location.
The seven existing science labs will then be divided up among other subject areas, allowing academic programs across the board to benefit from the new space. The new wing will include labs for forensics, environmental science, chemistry, physics, anatomy and more.
The astronomy dome will be one of the few pieces of new construction, as most of the space is simply being repurposed. Students will sit beneath the dome and gaze overhead to see projected images of the night sky, Tucker said.
A two-story hallway will also be added, connecting the monastery to classrooms immediately to the east, he said.
Half of the money for the project has already been raised from alumni donations, and school officials hope the remainder of the project will be completely funded likewise ahead of the ribbon cutting, which is slated for April 2019.
Marist has room for 1,725 students, according to Hammer. He and Tucker both expect the school, which is operating at 94 percent of its capacity, to continue to add students going forward.
“What we are looking to do is keep our class sizes down,” said Tucker, adding that the average class at Marist consists of 26 students.
Expanding into the monastery has been discussed for the past three years, and Hammer said the time seemed right as the school which changed from an all-boys school to coed in 2002 has become stable with the transition.
“We had to do a lot of things when the school went coed in terms of our facility. Now, we are growing,” said Hammer, who credits this switch for much of the school’s success.
Marist opened in 1963. Hammer said many of his fellow Brothers hoped to be assigned to the school, as the 40-bed monastery featured roomy, private bedrooms with air conditioning and other amenities not found in other religious communities.
The bedrooms were upstairs and overlooked either the 55-acre campus or several interior courtyards, one of which will be enclosed for the new science wing.
The first floor offered a community living room, game room, a shared kitchen and guest bedrooms. There was also an outdoor patio for barbecues and other gatherings.
“You never felt like you were on top of each other,” Hammer said. “There was also this great sense that we are all in this together.”
Hammer moved out of the monastery in 1980. He lives in nearby Beverly with four other Marist Brothers. Two others also have a home in Blue Island. He added that even into the 1990s there were still as many as 15 Marist Brothers living in the monastery.
Standing in his former room in the monastery, Hammer said it’s a bittersweet feeling walking the empty halls of the monastery, remembering it once filled with friends and fellow Marist Brothers.
“I think most people here at Marist understand that what we call the monastery hasn’t been that for a long time,” Hammer said.
That said, all of the Marist Brothers he’s spoken with about the repurposing of the space have been enthusiastic about the change and the strong focus on science that will along come with it.
“What we are hoping is people will see this as a school to meet student needs,” he said.
Howard Ludwig wrote this piece for Marist High School. Ludwig is a freelance media and public relations specialist working in Chicago. He can be reached at email@example.com.