My Visit to our Brother School in the North

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Alexander Landowski ’19

This past Spring Break my family traveled to  Milwaukee, Wisconsin for the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament and to visit family there. I had the wonderful opportunity to visit a fellow Jesuit high school, Marquette University High School. I arranged in advance to interview President Father Michael J. Marco, and then I followed with interviewing two senior students, George and Mike. They gave me a tour of the school before we sat down to talk about our two Jesuit high schools. I thought that it would be interesting and fun to compare and contrast the two places where we have chosen to spend four years.

Marquette University High School is named after a French explorer and Jesuit missionary Father Jacques Marquette, who went up the Mississippi River ministering to Native American populations along the way in the 1670s.

The high school named after him was founded nearly one hundred sixty years ago. Both the Jesuit high school and Marquette University were started in downtown Milwaukee in 1857. Although the high school moved to its new campus in 1925, both the high school and the university remained linked through the Society of Jesus and the Jesuits. In fact, the son of the president of Marquette University is a current senior at Marquette University High School.

Father Marco, who is from a small town in Nebraska and attended Creighton University, had his first stint at Marquette University High School as a scholastic young Jesuit working in the Theology department from 1989 to 1992. After serving as president for two other Jesuit high schools, he returned to MUHS in 2013 to serve as special assistant to the president. He assumed the role of president at the beginning of this current school year. “Returning to Marquette High, especially returning as president, has been a real gift for me. I’ve always loved this school from my early days here,” Father Marco stated.

The school has had great success as an academic institution and in athletics. Its soccer team has won the Wisconsin state championship ten out of the last twelve years and its tennis teams the last eight years in a row.

When I asked George and Mike, the senior students whom I interviewed, if they have any rivalries with other schools, George replied, “Everyone is our rival. Everyone hates us.”

During the 1990s, their speech and debate teams were in the top five in the country, and its robotics team finished top five in national competition recently held in St. Louis. The school was honored with a visit from President George H.W. Bush back in 1988, which was a big moment in the school’s history. Among its distinguished alumni include the current mayor of Milwaukee, the district attorney of Milwaukee, a significant research doctor at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore, and Jeff Bridich, the current general manager of the Colorado Rockies. According to Father Marco, they have “lots of good solid citizens making an impact.” Many of the school’s alumni are Milwaukee’s lawyers, doctors, and CEOs. Additionally, Father Marco informed me that they have had about forty of their graduates who have undertaken the religious vocation into the Society of Jesus, including a number of recent grads.

On the school’s website, the President’s Message states, “Money and title can be the by-product of living a successful life, but not the measure.” In our discussion, Father Marco elaborated, “The true measure of success is based on the heart of the human being.” Just as with our school, MUHS abides by the creed of “Men for Others. That’s where the measure of success is relevant. We measure the success of our grads by the impact they make on the world from a service perspective,” Father Marco explained. Marquette University High School, which has an annual graduating senior class of about two hundred fifty students, routinely places about fifteen to twenty students per year at Marquette University. More students from the school, however, annually enroll at the University of Wisconsin. Additionally, a few students each year attend Notre Dame, as well as many of the other Jesuit universities around the country.

Just as Strake Jesuit had a critical period during its early days with financial resources, so too has Marquette University High School. In the early 1990s with enrollment starting to decline, there was great concern about the school’s ability to continue financially. They considered going co-ed with a school in the western suburbs of Milwaukee, but after much prayerful deliberation, they ultimately decided against it. With an impressive capital campaign funded by alumni who were leaders in the city, they were able to expand building construction, attracting new students and restoring the enrollment to levels that allowed it to be economically viable. Being able to provide financial aid for needy students and keeping the cost of Jesuit education affordable for normal families is always a concern for Father Marco. Although about 35% of the students receive some form of tuition aid, they are not able to provide for all students that apply for aid because of limited resources.

The service element and focus of Marquette University High School is apparent by the actions of the students. They go to soup kitchens to serve, homeless shelters to work, and perform various tasks in their urban neighborhood. As part of their junior Theology class, students walk down a few blocks to an elementary school to help teach and mentor the pupils there. “Like every other Jesuit school, it’s these other things that form the whole person,” according to Father Marco. It makes the students “aware of the needs of our society and find themselves capable of doing something to solve some of society’s ills. Kids come back from service trips without exception recognizing that they are so fortunate and blessed, and that there is great need out there in the world, and we have an obligation to do what we can.” According to George and Mike, there is no service requirement in the freshman year, but sophomores are required to perform twelve hours per semester. In the first semester of their junior year, they are linked with an organization and perform sixteen hours of service, followed by twelve hours the second semester. During their senior year, they take two weeks off of school to participate in a project known as “shared life,” in which the student selects the organization and acts in the capacity of a normal employee in performing their service. “It helps in serving people while giving students real work experience,” George said.

For the two boys I interviewed, their reasons for attending Marquette University High School are very comparable to what many of our Strake Jesuit students would say. Their parents desired for them a Catholic education, and they knew that the academics were as good as it gets. For George, it didn’t hurt that both of his parents attended Marquette University, and he lives only five minutes away. Although Mike’s grandfather attended the high school, he comes from a predominantly white neighborhood in the suburbs, which makes his inner city matriculation an interesting experience. Being faced with the urban service projects “was a worry my sophomore year, but I ended up loving it and continue doing it today,” Mike told me. Both boys exclaimed that the people are what they enjoy most about the school, as well as the retreats. The great diversity of the student body, with the Hispanics on the south side, the white people from the west of the city and the north shore, and the African Americans from the inner city provides a melting pot opportunity for all of the students, which is a huge strength of the school.

The dress code at Marquette University High School is less rigid than ours at Strake Jesuit. Although they are generally required to wear collared shirts, there is no specific requirement regarding trousers, and they are allowed to wear Sperrys or tennis shoes. There are four weeks designated during the year where they are allowed to wear shorts, and a feature that I personally found appealing is that they have a couple of Packer attire days each year to honor the gridiron gods of Green Bay. Whereas we have Penance Halls given for punishment at our school, they are assessed a JUG, which stands for Justice Under God. In the past, a JUG was fulfilled after school for an hour in a room where the student would be required to copy from a phone book, but now the students just sit there and think about their infractions. After four JUGs, they are required to pay ten dollars and come into school on a Saturday to do odd jobs around the campus. As far as dances and interaction with high school girls?  Their sister school, not far away, is St. Joan Antida.

The conclusion derived from my visit is that, even though our two schools are 1200 miles apart in areas representing different cultural and traditional environments, we are very much the same in values that count. The one element that is different is a long-standing tradition on graduation night at Marquette University High School.  After sitting through the ceremony wearing their cap and gown with a coat and tie underneath, the new graduates all head outside to smoke a celebratory cigar. Do you think that is something we should consider, Father Johnson?