Mount Carmel students graduate in 2022. Credit: Mount Carmel

WOODLAWN — Mount Carmel High School — one of the few remaining Catholic all-boys schools in Chicago — is considering going coed.

The school’s Board of Members, which includes Carmelite clergy, as well as its mostly lay Board of Directors are set to meet separately Aug. 9 and 10 to make the decision, according to a message from the school. They’ll host five in-person and online listening sessions with community members, as well.

“Mount Carmel has consistently held its own in attracting students over the last several years, and in the past 20 years has even grown its market share of the shrinking number of students who seek an affordable, all-male, Catholic, college preparatory education,” according to the school’s message. “Thus, 122 years later, school leaders feel strongly that it is time to proactively consider whether and how to offer that same opportunity to the young women of the families who come to 6410 S. Dante.”

The all-boys Catholic school dates to 1900, when a small order of Carmelites established St. Cyril College for 13 students. The school has grown to about 600 students, building a reputation for its educational experience and athletics programs. It counts dozens of professional athletes among its alumni, including Blackhawks defenseman Chris Chelios and Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, as well a broad array of public officials, including Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart. 

Mount Carmel leaders praised the school’s history and touted its diversity of enrollment in their message, saying they wanted to approach the issue of coeducation from a “position of strength.”

Should Mount Carmel become coed, it would join a growing list of Chicagoland single-gender parochial schools that have transitioned to coeducation, including Loyola Academy in Wilmette, Marist High School in Mount Greenwood and DePaul College Prep, formerly Gordon Tech, on the North Side. All three schools have maintained strong enrollments as coed schools in recent years.

“Acknowledging that growth has been elusive for all single-gender schools in the archdiocese, school leaders point to demographics showing fewer students coming out of Catholic elementary schools over a long period and continuing into the future,” according to Mount Carmel’s message. “Leaders noted that growth in Chicago Catholic high schools is occurring in coeducational settings.” 

“Now is the time for the Mount Carmel community to enter into constructive dialogue about coeducation,” friar Carl Markelz said in the school’s message

The announcement did not say when the change would go into effect or how it would impact athletics and classroom policies.

Although the decision is not final, the announcement that coeducation is being considered sent shockwaves through the tight-knit Mount Carmel community. Many parents and alumni expressed opposition to the proposal; a petition to keep the school all-boys has collected more than 1,200 signatures as of Monday morning.

Sarah Hoehn, who has a rising junior at Mount Carmel, said she was disappointed by the announcement. Although she’s not opposed to the concept of coeducation broadly, she moved her son out of the University of Chicago Lab School because her family wanted the unique, all-male educational experience provided by Mount Carmel, she said.

Hoehn said the school is one of the few “safe spaces” for boys on the South Side, as it has a culture of accountability, a diverse student body and acceptance of neurodiversity. While the school is strict about things like tucked-in shirts, the progressive didactic practices focus on teaching to boys specifically, allowing them to walk around the classroom and other academic freedoms, she said.

“The whole school is set up so boys can thrive there,” Hoehn said. “I just don’t see how with that being their overarching theme and their overarching mission, how to really incorporate a coed environment — and how it’s going to be successful.”

Anne Lux, whose two brothers, step brother and an uncle attend Mount Carmel, said she is in favor of coeducation at the school, calling it a “phenomenal” idea.

“I think Mount Carmel is so much more than the gender of the students,” Lux said. “What Mount Carmel emphasizes, the life of service and acceptance, are things very smart in current Catholicism. … If Mount Carmel would have been available to me, there’s no doubt I would have been taking that trip down the Dan Ryan.”

Lux called coeducation a potential “game-changer” for her family. She has a niece in eighth grade who lives in Beverly who would consider the school if it was open to her. She said she plans to write a letter of support for coeducation.

A phrase is painted on a wall at Mount Carmel: “You came to Carmel as a boy, if you care to struggle and work at it, you will leave as a man.” Hoehn said that phrase represents the sense of pride and belonging unique to the Mount Carmel experience — something she doesn’t want to see diminished during her son’s time at the school.

“To me, the biggest loss is you’re going to lose this celebration of what a boy is supposed to be and this whole focus on ‘we turn boys to men,’” she said. 

Lux said that experience doesn’t have to be unique to male students.

“I don’t think it has to be brotherhood,” she said. “It could be family.”

The school is asking for community input. People can attend the listening sessions to participate.

Listening sessions:

  • Mount Carmel alumni: June 30 at the student commons
  • Student leaders: July 6 at the Kiszka Suite
  • Current parents and students: July 14 at the student commons
  • Donors: July 21 at the Kiszka Suite
  • Open forum: July 28 at the student commons

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