Historic school gets new playground

June 1, 2009 (CHICAGO) St. Elizabeth's at 41st and Wabash was founded in 1881 by Irish immigrants. It was all white. Then a few years later and a few blocks away, St. Monica's Church was established. It was the life's work of a trailblazer priest named Fr. Augustus Tolton.

"Fr. Augustus Tolton was man born of slaves in 1831. And he eventually became the first African-American priest ordained for the United States," said Stan Tarr, director of development, St. Elizabeth's School. "He started St. Monica's Church."

By the early 1900s, the South Side was changing and St. Elizabeth's lost its white members.

St. Monica's merged with St. Elizabeth's in 1924 and it became the first African-American Catholic school in the city of Chicago. It has a rich history without many riches. As a matter of fact, it didn't even have a substantial playground - until now.

The playground won't be dedicated for two more days but we got a few kids to give it a test run. It's a surplus playground from Naperville that was headed for the scrap heap. But then the near south Rotary Club of Chicago became involved. They raised $17,000 and 60 volunteers worked 13 weekends to rehab, paint and rebuild the entire setup.

"This is a project that is really a labor of love. It's the first physical project where people, Rotarians, actually came out and worked with people from the school to build this playground," said David Baker, Rotary Club of Chicago Near South.

"It's amazing. I love the way how they did it and it's just so wonderful," said Kelliya Lane, St. Elizabeth's third grader.

The new playground will be dedicated Wednesday morning and long years of asphalt and a few rusty old swings will be gone. Just maybe, somewhere, Fr. Augustus Tolton will be cheering the kids on.

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