St. Francis De Sales Seminary High School
Some Historical Notes

The Early Pio Nono (1890-1941)

As early as 1864, Salzman 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. Salzman 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. Salzman Hall was built in 1931 to accommodate the growing numbers of students.


St. Francis Minor Seminary (1941-1963)

The growth of Pio Nono continued into the 1940's when the Archdiocese 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 Salzman 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.

Don Bosco (1945-1972)

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 most 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.

Pio Nono - A Brief Resurrection (1965-1972)

Because 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.

A New Era Begins

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.

Source: History of St. Thomas More High School

Archdiocese was once home to five minor seminaries

The following high school seminaries (minor seminaries) once existed in the Milwaukee Archdiocese:

• Saint Francis Minor Seminary. Opened in 1941 at the present St. Thomas More High School, this minor seminary was renamed DeSales Prep in 1963 and relocated to a new campus (currently the Cousins Center). DeSales high school closed in 1979.

• The Order of St. Camillus operated a minor seminary in Racine from the early 1950s to 1961.

• The Augustinians opened St. Monica's Prep high school in Oconomowoc in 1943. It became a minor seminary a few years later and closed in 1972, when it became the order's novitiate.

• The Society for the Divine Word opened Holy Ghost Mission House, a high school seminary, in 1937. It was renamed Divine Word Seminary in 1959 and closed in 1991.

• St. Bonaventure was opened as a high school seminary in Corliss by the Franciscans in 1923. It moved to Sturtevant in 1926 and, when a two-year college program was added in 1933, it became a minor seminary. It closed in 1983.

•Apparently, there was one more seminary, per a note that I received: "St. Lawrence Seminary, Mount Calvry, Wisconsin was founded in 1860 for the Capuchin Province of St. Joseph and is located within the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and has been in continual existance ever since." Thanks Leo for that update.

Source: High school seminaries address clergy abuse scandal

Old Pictures of DeSales
Current Pictures of DeSales
DeSales Docs
Some Historical Notes