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When School Choice Means Life or Death: An Incident at Leo

Pat Hickey 29 June 2010 6 Comments

Wearing crisp white shirts, black slacks and determination on their baby smooth faces, Leo freshman arrive at the venerable Catholic High School before 7 A.M. for an immersion course that prepares the entering class for their career at Leo.

At 7:15 A.M. Executive Secretary Natasha Adams, asked, “Mr. Hickey, did you see the student run past your office?” I had not paid much attention as kids are always running past my office on their way up to the second floor. “He was being chased by three men into the building.”

We ran upstairs and found the young man, a well-set up and polite young man who betrayed no level of fear . . . well, some. He had been attacked only minutes before on 79th Street by three older young men – thugs, predators.

I ran outside to see if I could get glimpse of the three as they were reported to be running south on Sangamon. Ms. Adams said, “They chased the boy right up to the door.”

I took the alley east to Peoria and took a hard look down the alley that hits the wall of the school from the south between the two streets. Nothing. I walked up Peoria and spotted a patrol SUV and flagged it down and informed Officer Armstrong, a husky twenty something who could have passed for the older brother of any of our freshmen. Officer Armstrong accompanied me into Leo and I introduced him the young man and our Principal Phil Mesina, an Air Force Veteran. Together these three solid young men pieced together a report that we hope will lead to the interruption of day’s work for three useless thugs.

This little tale leads me to talk about school choice. A trio of useless and violent thugs attacked a tough and determined young man many years their junior in order to rob him of whatever change he had in his pockets or valuables (cell phone, calculator, & etc.) in his book bag. I say that this young man is tough because he chose to wear on the streets that intersect the killing grounds of Gresham and Englewood (roughly 79th & Halsted) neat and dignified clothing that is anathema to Thug Culture. He don’t look street. He is determined because he fought off three older thugs and lost only a handful of notepapers, when one of them plunged his filth mitts into the kid’s book-bag and the young Lion too flight into the doors that make a difference –thanks be to God.

God is here. The doors our young Lion sought open directly to Leo’s Chapel were the red vigil light signals the presence of the risen Christ. This school operates under the Crucifix and has been the home to too many martyrs to Chicago’s Street violence: Eric Ersery, Jason Riley, Steven Lyons. Officer Eric Lee and his brother Steven only a few weeks ago. Leo is a Catholic high school. Most of the young men, like the tough and determined incoming freshman who fought off his attackers this morning, are not Roman Catholics and all but one (a Mexican American) are African Americans. The non-Catholic black kids and their families choose Leo High School. That takes very tough and determined people to live out that choice – a choice of Christian and Civic centered values over empty secularism that is Public Education.

This spring, Senator James Meeks and Representative Kevin Joyce fought one hell of a fight to bring school choice into play in Illinois. A handful of gutless suburban politicians betrayed the cause and bowed to the Public School Lobbies that toss dimes to their political helpers. Tough and determined families who want a value based education in a Catholic or private school were betrayed. Catholic schools outperform public schools across the board, but families in the inner city are denied access to an education, because of timid and feckless elected officials. The young men running to the safety and surety of Leo High School’s Cross-covered doors continues to be blocked by those who fight School Choice.

The young man attacked and pursued by three useless thugs is now up in the classroom getting his work done. Officer Armstrong is out on the streets fighting the net of hopelessness and despair and looking for the three louses who prey on others. Ms. Adams is writing a letter to our parents to inform them to keep an eye out for thugs when they drop their sons, grandsons and nephews off for morning class. Positive people choose the right thing to do. School Choice is important . . . it can be life and death.


Pat Hickey is a regular columnist for the Chicago Daily Observer and a Director of Development at Chicago Leo.

image Illumination of St. Leo the Great


  • When School Choice Means Life or Death | Blithe Spirit (author) said:

    […] When School Choice Means Life or Death Posted on June 29, 2010 by Jim Bowman Leo Catholic High on the South Side: a port in the storm. […]

  • Dan Kelley said:

    The leaders of the Illinois General Assembly owe an apology to the freshman student for failing to enact some type of school choice program or voucher plan. Worse still, I think of the thousands of other students who have to accept the miserable conditions in some of the poorer public schools within the thug comfort zone.

  • Dan Proft said:

    Testify, Brother Pat. Thanks for sharing this story and the real life you see every day.

    There are so many great examples, public and private, of schools like Leo that get it right. It’s unfortunate we cannot get the teachers’ unions and the pols they control to consider replicating the successes like Leo instead of perpetuating the failures they control.


  • jorod said:

    Well, that’s what the welfare society has created. They chased the middle class out of there 40 odd years ago and created a socialist paradise in that neighborhood. Hard to believe Englewood was the center of economic activity on the South side back then. Gresham was like a suburb.

  • Dan Kelley said:

    Englewood was once an oasis of suburbia within the city limits. For a time, this neighborhood was completely dry by local option.

    A certain community organizer represented this a portion of Englewood in his legislative district in Springfield for several terms, but the mainstream media has not found to time to chronicle his accomplishments in improving the quality of life there for his constituents.

  • Phil Krone said:

    I have never met Pat Hickey and I don’t remember having commented previously on anything he has written, but my heart palpatates reading his almost flawless screenbplay of a real life tragedy.

    Even though we don’t agree often on public issues he has been a generous supporter of my first amendment freedoms. There is nothing hypocritical abnout him. He lieves an honest life.

    This story he tells could have been even much sadder, and I rejoice with him that the young man in question was not harmed.

    I am not Catholic, but I am exceedingly grateful for the contribution that Catholic secondary education makes throughout our land. In Chicago, Leo’s, Ignatius, Mt. Carmel, Hales Franciscan and many others have filled a void, and while I strongly support public education, I also believe in choice, and am saddened that Rev. Meeks initiative lost, and for all the wrong reasons. Rev. Sen. Meeks does not give in or give up, and I am sure that he will be back again and get this accomplsished. I wish the unions would actually support him.

    But back to Pat Hickey’s evaluation of the situation. The three individuals who were chasing the young man were indeed thugs, but sometime between seventeen and twenty something years ago they were adorable babies, more likely than not brought into this world without any sense of responsibility.

    The same goes for all of the young men and women incarcerated — they too were adorable babies at the beginning. Orphanages are not the first choice of child rearing, but living less than a mile directly west of Mercy School I can assure you they can be far better than the neglect often accorded many young people which hardens and criminalizes them.

    But the Catholic Church for all its other defects really shines in this area.

    As I said, I don’t know Pat Hickey, but he is a genuine soldier for Christ as well as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, and just knowing that he’s out there makes me feel better about the world I live in.

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