St. Procopius College was founded by Benedictine monks at St. Procopius Parish in the Pilsen neighborhood on Chicago’s near west side. The college was originally a secondary school or high school but in the European tradition called a college. On March 2, 1887, Fr. Procopius Neuzil, O.S.B., the first rector and instructor, registered the first two students. By June, the student body had grown by eighteen students, and the faculty had increased by three.
When the students returned in September of 1887, they were greeted with the following curriculum: Czech, Arithmetic, Natural History, Penmanship, Drawing, English, U.S. History, Geography, Spelling, Elocution, Singing and Music. Classes were held from eight to eleven in the morning and from one to four in the afternoon.
The monks bought 104 acres of land (the Neff Farm) in Lisle. They eventually purchased additional property of about 700 acres. The land was turned into a productive farm operation.
Fr. Procopius Neuzil O.S.B., along with the Benedictine Sisters of Sacred Heart Monastery, established a Bohemian orphanage for the Archdiocese of Chicago. The Rott Farm- house, located in what is now the Green Trails subdivision in Lisle, became home to the orphanage.
Construction began on a new college building in Lisle (what later would be known as Benedictine Hall.) The cornerstone was dedicated on July 2, 1900.
The Academy moved to Lisle and classes began in the new building. There were 11 students. The building had classrooms, residential space, rooms and offices for the monks and a chapel. The school became a boarding and day school for boys
Expansion on Campus
Third year of high school added.
Fourth year of high school added.
The Abbey officially moved to Lisle.
St. Procopius Seminary opened. Priests for the Abbey and various dioceses were trained there until 1967.
Sacred Heart Monastery opened an all-girls educational facility. That same year the monks established St. Joan of Arc Parish in Lisle.
The high school moved from Benedictine Hall into its present location under the leadership of Principal Fr. Thomas Havlik, O.S.B.
In the spring of 1956, the facilities of St. Joseph’s Orphanage, north of Maple Ave., were leased to the Abbey by the Diocese of Joliet (and deeded over in 1964). In June 1956, Fr. Thomas Havlik and Fr. Gilbert Laketek, assisted by fathers, clerics and brothers began preparing the Orphanage to function as St. Procopius College Academy. The entrance from Maple Avenue was provided with an appropriate sign, the front of the main building was remodeled, a wooden floor was laid in the gym over the original asphalt floor and countless other adjustments and improvements were made.
The photograph on the left shows the gymnasium at left, St. Joseph Hall in center, St. Benet Hall at right. Madonna Hall is located to left of the gym. The farm buildings are behind the gym; the power house and water tanks are behind St. Joseph Hall. Petru Hall is the low building to the right of St. Benet Hall. Note the covered walk connecting the gym to the main building. This was demolished to make room for St. Martin Hall in 1961. (excerpt from St. Procopius Abbey Archives)
St. Martin Hall was constructed which included 13 new classrooms, Deans Offices, inviting lobby, gleaming kitchen and spacious cafeteria. The building was named in honor of Bishop Martin McNamara, first bishop of the Diocese of Joliet, and boosted the Academy’s potential enrollment to 1,000 students. Seven more classrooms were completed later in the basement.
St. Procopius Academy and Sacred Heart Academy joined to form Benet Academy. Fr. Ronald Rigovsky O.S.B. was principal during the union of the school.
The monks moved across College Road to their newly-constructed church and monastery, St. Procopius Abbey. Benedictine Hall, their former home, continued to serve as a classroom and administration building for the university until taken down in 2004.
St. Thomas Aquinas Hall, named in honor of St. Thomas Aquinas and Abbot Thomas Havlik, the school’s first principal was built housing the science department and media art center. The science department utilized the first floor which consisted of classrooms, display cases, and six science labs. The second floor media center consisted of the library with seminar rooms and the audio-visual department. Along with new modern photography equipment and a printing press, the A-V department was complete with its own TV studio and control room.
A new gymnasium addressing the physical education needs of the Academy was built. It was later named St. Ronald Gymna- sium in honor of former principal, Rev. Ronald Rigovsky, O.S.B.
In 1999, Benet began an ambitious, inclusive planning process that resulted in prioritization of future strategic and capital needs. One of the top priorities identified in this process was the con- struction of a new, multi-purpose performing arts center. St. Daniel Hall was opened in May 2001 with its lobby, 369-seat au- dience chamber, large music practice room, instrument storage space and set construction area. The new center was named in honor of Most Reverend Daniel W. Kucera ’41, O.S.B., the fifth Abbot of St. Procopius Abbey and St. Daniel the Prophet.
Another capital need identified was to recapture and renovate the chapel for religious use. The Chapel of Saint Thérèse - The “LittleFlower” (3rd floor St. Joseph Hall) was refurbished and reopened.
The St. Jude Science and Activity Center which houses new chemistry and biology labs and classrooms along with a new cafeteria and multipurpose room was opened. With the improvement of the academic facilities, students have more flexibility in scheduling along with more time for eating and socializing in the cafeteria space. Improved circulation and accessibility make Benet safer and more welcoming to both students and visitors. Space in St. Thomas Hall was reconfigured for the new visual arts curriculum.
The St. Scholastica Athletic Campus, ten acres of land west of the main campus, is developed. Expanded parking opened in Fall of 2013. Athletic fields are expected to be completed by Spring of 2015.