A long tradition of quality Catholic education began when Aquin Central Catholic High School opened its doors for the first time on September 7, 1923, on the second floor of St. Mary’s School, with 30 students from the four local Freeport parishes. Aquin was originally known as the Freeport Catholic Community High School. Sister Mary Eleanor, O.P., was the first principal and director of the many activities that took place that first year. It was staffed by the Sisters of St. Dominic of Sinsinawa, Wisconsin, the assistant pastors of the local parishes and by Catholic and non-Catholic lay teachers under the directions of a Diocesan priest as superintendent.
On the first day of school on September 8, 1924, the name was changed to Aquin High School. The school continued to occupy the second floor of St. Mary’s Grammar School. In the fall of 1925 the school expanded to include the second and third floors of St. Mary’s.
When Fr. Charles Conley was appointed pastor of St. Mary’s parish in July of 1924, he also became superintendent of the school. As enrollment steadily increased, property was acquired to erect a high school building, which was located on a six acre tract of land across from St. Vincent’s orphanage. Funds were raised by all four parishes and construction of the new building was begun. The cornerstone was laid by Bishop Muldoon on May 9, 1926.
The first class graduated in 1927. Aquin has been accredited by the University of Illinois since December 22, 1926; by the State of Illinois Office of Public Instruction since May 13, 1929, and by the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools since the 10th of April, 1931.
The Class of 1943 decided that they needed a mascot for the sports teams. After a contest for suggestions, the title ‘Bulldogs’ was selected. Acoording to the 1943 yearbook, “It was their tenacity of purpose, and never-say-die spirit that won them the name. Though the charts showed the team outweighed in almost every game, the Bulldogs lived up to their name.”
Over the years the school expanded to meet the needs of its growing student body, and in 1959, the parishes of St. Joseph’s, Lena: St. Wendelin, Shannon; St. Vincent Home for Children; St. Thomas Aquinas, Freeport; St. Mary’s, Freeport; and St. Joseph’s, Freeport; met with Bishop Loras T. Lane and decided to form what is became known as Aquin Central Catholic High School. It was also decided at that meeting to build an addition which would include a library, cafeteria, gymnasium, laboratories and additional classrooms. Ground breaking ceremonies were held on August 30, 1959 and the new addition was dedicated on March 19, 1961. The Junior High School was added to the building in September, 1976.
In April 1969, the Freeport Board of Catholic Education was established. In 1990, the function of the Board was revised and a new name, which is more in line with the function, was adopted. Their official title became The Freeport Catholic Schools Council of Administration. Currently the school provides a fully accredited academic program. Highland Community College and CareerTec are both available to Aquin High School students.
In September 2007, the Bishop officially announced that Freeport Catholic Schools would now be known as Aquin Catholic Schools. Incorporating three campuses across Freeport, this new name unites PreSchool through Grade 12 students under the Aquin name. Five parishes continue to support the system both financially and spiritually.
Aquin Catholic Schools currently have an enrollment of 358 students. Aquin is a community of the past and the present with great hope for the future.
(Portions of this history were excerpted from the ‘Aquin Alumni Directory’, published 1993)