Type: Catholic, co-educational, high school of the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin
Accreditation: North Central Accrediting Association (http://www.ncacasi.org/)
Affiliations: Aquinas Catholic Schools, National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA), Greater La Crosse Area Chamber of Commerce, Mississippi Valley Conference (MVC), Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA)
When Bishop Alexander McGavick came to Aquinas High School in 1922, he wanted to build a four-year Catholic high school in La Crosse to replace the two-year Catholic high school at Holy Trinity. By 1925, a building committee of Arthur Funke, Joseph Leinfelder, and John C. Burns had begun planning.
In 1927, the land for Aquinas High School was purchased from the Coleman Lumber Company. The architectural firm of Parkinson and Dockendorf drew blueprints, and Peter Nelson Construction Company built the school. The original wing, completed at a cost of $200,000 is a Tudor Gothic building trimmed in Bedford stone.
Aquinas High School was dedicated Sunday afternoon September 2, 1928, at 3 p.m. Bishop McGavick blessed the rooms. Two days after the dedication, 127 students were enrolled. Originally staffed by diocesan clergy and the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, Aquinas High School provided a well-rounded curriculum.
Blue and gold were chosen as school colors during an all-school assembly on September 17, 1928. On March 16, 1929, the girls first appeared in their official uniforms – navy blue serge dresses with white collars and cuffs.
In 1929, the first graduating class of Aquinas High School consisted of four girls. The number of students attending was 192, the same number that graduated in 1978.
During the 1930’s, students came to Aquinas High School from as far away as Bloomfield, Montana, Minneapolis, and Canada. The girls at this time used the south stairway, and the boys used the north.
The first intra-city football game on September 23, 1934, against Central, ended in a tie. The first game against Logan was October 26 of the same year. Some 2,000 people saw the first city football game to be played under the lights. Aquinas High School lost, 25-0.
The student council was organized on October 7, 1936. The bronze statue of Christ the King was erected and dedicated outside of Aquinas High School in May 1938, and the first Aquinas High School graduate to become a priest, Philip Leinfelder, was ordained in 1938.
Building renovations and additions kept up with the growing student body. The building was enlarged in 1931, when the wing along Cameron Avenue, including the chapel, food lab, and rooms 297, 208, 301, and 302, were added. In 1936, the Cass Street Wing was extended. It included guidance offices and rooms 215, 216, 309, and 310. The third addition included the old gym, tunnel, Cameron Street entrance, library, ERC, and rooms 311, 312, and 313. In 1954, the commons and rooms 201 through 206 were added.
In the 1980’s, an extensive renovation of the interior and windows of the main building was undertaken, and in 1992, the renovation was completed throughout the building as room was set aside for Aquinas Middle School, located in the second floor hallways and opened in 1992.
On May 9, 1996, Bishop Raymond L. Burke announced that D. B. and Marge Reinhart had donated $3 million to kick off a $7.3-million building campaign for the construction of Bishop Burke Hall. The new facility was built on the corner lot of West Avenue and Cass Street and included the Reinhart Athletic Complex, a 1,000-seat gymnasium, new locker room facilities, a weight room, and a multi-purpose wrestling room. Also, a new music complex with separate vocal and instrumental, as well as several individual practice rooms, was added. To accommodate growing enrollment, 10 new classrooms, two science labs, and a shared computer lab became part of this expansion project. Due to the generosity of more than 1,100 benefactors, the goal was reached, and on September 12, 1997, Bishop Burke Hall was dedicated.
On Monday, May 13, 2002, Bishop Raymond L. Burke dedicated the life-size bronze sculpture of Saint Thomas Aquinas to the Aquinas Schools that is located in front of the music complex, facing Cass Street. Bruce Thomas of Minneapolis, Minn., created the sculpture. Bishop Burke blessed the sculpture and then led a procession of friends, faculty, and students to the Reinhart Athletic Complex, where he thanked all those who worked so diligently on the sculpture since 1996.
The Aquinas Chapel underwent renovations in 2007 thanks to an anonymous donation of $15,000. A confessional, sacristy, and stained glass windows were added, and improvements were made to the lighting and new carpet. In 2008, Aquinas upgraded and enhanced its technology offerings. An anonymous $100,000 donation matched by the Aquinas Schools Foundation made it possible to purchase new desktop and laptop computers, two SMART Boards, LCD projectors, and numerous other hardware and software upgrades.
On September 9, 2008, Aquinas High School was named a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education. Aquinas was given the prestigious honor for its academic excellence and ACT scores in the top 10% of the nation. Of 130,000 high schools in the nation, 320 were named National Blue Ribbon Schools in 2008, and Aquinas was one of only three private high schools to receive the honor.
The Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration
When Aquinas High School opened in 1928, the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration became part of the first Aquinas High School faculty, which began the long tradition of Franciscan presence, shaping the present Aquinas High School community.
A group of three sisters grew in numbers, as the school added to its enrollment and peaked to 33 in the 1950s. With the decline in school population and in vocations, the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration at Aquinas High School began to decrease in numbers until 1992, when the last sister on the staff, Sister Lucille Kleinheinz, retired from active duty.
The Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration presence at Aquinas High School was revived in the fall of 2012 when Sister Julia Walsh joined the religion department faculty.
In addition to being an almost total Franciscan presence for many years, the sisters also chaired every department from art to biology to world history and yearbooks with the exception of sports. Moreover, the sisters were part of the administration holding the position of vice principal until Sister Celine Schumacher's retirement in 1978.
Every sister who taught at Aquinas High School throughout the years was degreed and fully prepared both academically and theologically to educate our modern youth.
In addition to its professionals, Aquinas High School also graduated many young women who were gifted with a religious vocation to the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration.
The total number of sisters engaged in teaching at Aquinas High School since its beginning is 175.
The Aquinas High School Crest
The Aquinas High School crest, designed in 1942, symbolizes the depth of intent of Catholic education. It first appeared in the yearbook, the TRUMPET, and on the 1943 class rings.
The cross, which holds the central and most prominent position on the crest, identifies Aquinas High School as Catholic and indicates the importance of the faith and redemption of which it is a symbol.
XP, the first two letters (chi and rho) of the Greek word for Christ, signify that the life of a Christian should not be egocentric or world centric but Christ centric, centered around Christ.
The fleur-de-lys, the symbol of sanctity and virtue, symbolize God, man's final end, and the Blessed Virgin, model of virtue. The lamp of learning and the books are symbols of knowledge and learning. The laurel over the books symbolizes reward and the lilies of the valley on the other side of the aureole symbolize humility.
"We are the friends of Christ. We have learned His spirit in chapel, in classroom, in hall, and gymnasium."
Rooted in faith and based in excellence, the spirit of Aquinas High School tradition and grown and spread immeasurably since the schools inception in 1927. The nearly 13,000 graduates in a multiplicity of professions from religion to business to medicine to education to law to entertainment have spread those high standards which are so much a part of the Aquinas High school experience throughout the world.
The common memories, of Sisters' influence, of Father's jokes, of class Masses and meetings, of games and dances, of the dress code, the commons, and the classroom, serve to unite us all in experience, we each will always carry with us a bit of that special spirit that is Aquinas High School.