/  History

St. Thomas More has a rich history

St. Thomas More is located on a 16-acre campus that originally housed Pio Nono High School (1890) and St. Francis Minor Seminary (1941). In 1972, two all-boys high schools, Don Bosco (1946) and Pio Nono, merged to form Thomas More High School. Thomas More remained an all-boys school until 1989, when we first admitted female students. To emphasize our Catholic identity, the “St.” was added in 2007 at the request of the Archbishop.

arch bwWhen the Diocese of Milwaukee was established in 1843, much of this territory was wilderness. It would become an area of consistent growth as Europeans moved to the New World to escape political and religious persecution.

Rev. John Carroll, the first Catholic Bishop in the United States, tried to provide for the needs of the growing population of Catholics by starting new dioceses and installing new superiors. In 1829, he ordained John M. Henni, who eventually directed the growth of the Church in Wisconsin. Father Henni hoped to establish a seminary in the United States and was instrumental in founding St. Francis de Sales Seminary in 1845. Reverend Joseph Salzmann is given credit for organizing and securing funding for its permanent site in St. Francis, Wisconsin. The cornerstone was laid in 1855.

As early as 1864, Salzmann conceived the idea of founding an institution to prepare young men for the teaching profession.  He launched the project to build Catholic Normal School and Pio Nono College.  On June 12, 1870, with the approval of Bishop Henni, the cornerstone for this school was laid.  The college was named for Pius IX, who was pope at the time.

The school’s primary focus was music, since the office of an organist and choirmaster was frequently combined with that of teacher.  In 1873, Professor Singenberger arrived from Germany to head the music program.  While here, he organized the American Caecilian Society and became a major influence on church music in America.  A thorough course of music was connected with the curriculum of the Normal School.  In addition, a separate course in music was available for those wishing to prepare themselves exclusively for the position of organist and director.  Throughout the early years this institution was recognized as the chief exponent of Catholic church music in this country.

At the request of Bishop Henni, Rev. Salzmann also opened up a college department for the benefit of Catholic men who wished to get a degree from a Catholic institution.  The first indication of a high school graduate was in 1891.  In 1892, the first “commercial” student graduate was listed.  This two-year course of study was designed to impart a thorough business education.  By 1923 the “normal school/college” department was dissolved and Pio Nono was a Catholic boarding and day high school for boys.  Salzmann Hall was built in 1931 to accommodate the growing numbers of students.

The growth of Pio Nono continued into the 1940’s when the Archdiocese developed a need for a “minor” seminary which would be separate from the college level “major” seminary.  The major seminary had enrolled high school students for years, but as their numbers grew, a decision was made to merge the minor seminary students with those at Pio Nono.

In 1941, the Archdiocese, under the leadership of Archbishop Moses Elias Kiley, decided to make Pio Nono the minor seminary for the Archdiocese and renamed the school St. Francis Minor Seminary.  The minor seminary consisted of four years of high school and two years of college (from 1941).  At the time, there were both day and boarding students.  The boarders lived in Salzmann Hall, our present west building.  St. Francis Minor Seminary continued to educate young men on this site until DeSales Preparatory Seminary was dedicated in 1963.

St. Francis Minor Seminary was so well-established in the mid 1940’s that no non-seminarians were admitted.  To provide for Catholic boys who were not going to the seminary, the Archdiocese asked the Marianist brothers and priests from the St. Louis Province to come to Milwaukee to establish a school.  The Marianists arrived in 1945 and worked at Messmer High School while they looked for an appropriate site on the south side.

Don Bosco High School was opened in 1945.  The academic building had been a public elementary school built around the turn of the century.  Located on the corner of 12th and Becher Streets, it was vacant when the archdiocese bought it for $40,000.  Don Bosco initially started with freshmen and sophomores, so the first graduates are listed for 1948.  The new Bosco gym, which was completed in 1949, became a focal point for the Don Bosco community.  It was in these buildings that the Marianists instilled in their students the importance of the concept of “family” that Dons still carry today.

Don Bosco flourished throughout the 1940’s and into the early 60’s, earning a reputation for fine academic preparation as well as excellent extra-curriculars.  As the decade of the 60’s came to a close, however, declining enrollment led the Marianist leadership to discuss changes that would eventually blend the history of Don Bosco and Pio Nono High Schools.

LOGO PNBecause of the growth of attendance at St. Francis Minor Seminary, the Archdiocese decided to construct a new minor seminary building.  The Seminary moved to its Lake Drive site in 1963 and was renamed de Sales Preparatory Seminary.  It continued there as a four year high school and two year college until around 1970, when the college department was changed to a four year program and was relocated.

Under the leadership of Rev. Edmund Olley, Pio Nono reopened in 1965 in the building previously occupied by the minor seminary, and plans for a new building addition were created.  When the building was finished two years later, the future of Pio Nono seemed bright.  The “resurrection” of Pio Nono began with a freshman class of 100 and a new class was added each year, with the first senior class graduating in 1969.

Problems with declining enrollment in the late 1960’s concerned the leaders of Pio Nono, Don Bosco and the Archdiocese. Eventually, strong feelings of tradition gave way to the cold reality of economics.  Over a century had passed since Pio Nono first had been founded when the merger of the two schools was announced.  In 1972 a “new” school was to emerge from these respected institutions.  Named after the former Lord Chancellor of England, who became a martyr, Thomas More High School began a new era based on blending the uniqueness of two fine traditions.  Bro. Dan Sharpe, S.M., who had been principal at Don Bosco, was named the first principal of Thomas More High School.

After surviving the trials of the first few years of the merger, Thomas More established itself as a leader in the educational preparation of young men and was also known for its fine extra-curricular programs.  While the achievement statistics were excellent, other indicators were disturbing.  Gradually increasing costs and declining enrollment over the next 15 years eventually led to serious discussions about the future.  Another issue of concern was the loss of the services of the Marianists in 1987.  Due to a decline in personnel available to staff schools, the order felt compelled to focus on staffing other schools which they founded and sponsored.

A newly-established Board of Directors commissioned a study to investigate population trends in the area and educational needs of community families.  From this research, the Board determined the people of this area wanted a co-educational school.  After much deliberation and communication with administrators of other schools, a request was issued to become a co-ed school.  In 1989, under Archbishop Rembert Weakland’s direction, Thomas More welcomed its first female students.  In 1992, full enrollment of 750 students was reached, and was sustained at that level for many years before a slow trend of declining enrollment ensued in the early 2000s.

Saint TM Crest bwOn July 1, 2007, Thomas More High School officially became St. Thomas More High School.  The addition of “St.” allows all prospective students, donors, visitors and neighbors to immediately know the mission and driving force behind the school: Jesus Christ and His love for us.  Also, by including the faith element in the name, St. Thomas More is better able to market itself to prospective students and their families.

The Board of Directors and top administrators also felt it was important to pay homage to our patron and namesake, St. Thomas More.   Thomas More was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1935, and it is with immense pride that we pay tribute to this great honor by including it in the name of our school.

Though the name changed slightly, the values and mission of the school remained the same.  With an emphasis on innovation, St. Thomas More High School adopted a one-to-one wireless laptop curriculum, becoming the first high school in Milwaukee and the first Catholic high school in Wisconsin to implement such a program.  Further solidifying commitment to innovation, St. Thomas More has been locally and nationally recognized for its engineering and biomedical science programs, both part of the Project Lead the Way curriculum.  Ever mindful of the importance of spiritual development for our students, our school looks to the future with great hope, knowing that we are preparing our young adults to bring about God’s Kingdom here on Earth as they go forth and live out His teachings.

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School Information

St. Thomas More High School
2601 East Morgan Avenue
Milwaukee, WI 53207

Phone: (414) 481-8370
Fax: (414) 481-3382
Email: [email protected]

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