How great to see Dan Haley’s column, “Austin reclaims a sacred space” [News, April 25]. Although I was unable to attend the ceremony, Dan’s article transported me back into the space and its long and storied history of serving youth. 

The long-term vision of Glen and Lonni Kehrein, in partnership with Rev. Raleigh B. Washington, was instrumental in breathing new life back into the abandoned three-building complex over a 40-year period. As alluded to in the article, it took thousands of volunteers, many donors, support from the families in Austin, and a partnership with Catalyst Schools for things to get to where they are today. 

There is another connection to Oak Park that I would like to point out. St. Catherine of Siena-St. Lucy Parish on the corner of Washington and Austin played a major role in the actual construction of the three-building complex, including the reclaimed auditorium. 

In December of 1889, St. Catherine of Siena Parish opened on the southwest corner of Washington and Parkside in what was then considered a suburb of Chicago, Austin. The parish directly petitioned Archbishop Patrick Feehan and the Sisters of Mercy of St. Patrick’s Academy (headed up by Mother Mary Catherine Feehan, sister to the Archbishop) to build a school. Ultimately, land was purchased and the three-building complex that stands today was built. 

What initially began as an elementary school called St Catherine’s Academy was eventually replaced by Siena High School, mentioned in Dan’s article. Both the church and the elementary school relocated to their present location along Washington Boulevard in Oak Park. 

There is much more work to be done, but exciting times lie ahead for the reclaimed space on the corner of Washington and Parkside!

Ken Woods

Oak Park

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