Mike Hughes: ‘On a mission from God’
April 7, 2009

By John E. Aranza | April 2009

Mike Hughes worked to keep Our Lady of Guadalupe School open when it was in danger of closing. (Photo by Troy T Heinzeroth)
John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd started their “mission from God” on the southeast corner of 91st Street and Burley Avenue in the movie The Blues Brothers.

Canaryville’s Mike Hughes began his in 2005 on the opposite corner at Our Lady of Guadalupe School.

Before that, Hughes had a storied career at De La Salle Institute in Bridgeport: instructor, head football coach, and assistant principal at De La Salle during the 1980s. He is a La Sallian and Honor Key Award recipient, past-president of the De La Salle alumni association, committee member of the Bulger Stadium project, and still active in school affairs. Many members of his extended family attended the Bridgeport high school as well.

His connection with Our Lady of Guadalupe started when the pastor, the Rev. James Maloney, contacted Hughes, whose name was on a list of recommended administrators and teachers from the Archdiocesan office, and offered him the position of principal.

During the interview process, Fr. Maloney said to Hughes, “The job is perfect for you.”
Only after Hughes had signed the contract did the pastor tell him, “Well, lad, we have challenges” and reveal that he was retiring and leaving.

Hughes had a confirmation hearing with Auxiliary Bishop Joseph N. Perry. During a subsequent meeting in summer 2005 with Bishop Perry, the Archdiocesan schools superintendent, and accountants, Hughes was asked instead to oversee closing Our Lady of Guadalupe School. Enrollment totaled 31, and it appeared there was little chance to attract enough students for the fall to make the school viable.

Hughes pleaded for at least six months to try to keep the school open. “I preferred to inject enthusiasm and continue what had begun many years before,” Hughes said.

The fact that six surrounding South Chicago parishes had closed their schools did not deter him. Neither did the fact the school operated in a low-income area, in which 90% of the
area students qualified for free or reduced lunches based on Federal guidelines.

Hughes spoke at every Mass, walked the neighborhood, and knocked on doors.

“The challenges are many, but the potential incredible,” Hughes said.

Principal Mike Hughes of Our Lady of Guadalupe School helps third grader Victor Herrera on during Crazy Hat Day, one of the many activities that take place during Catholic Schools Week. (Photo by Troy T Heinzeroth)
He contacted the Big Shoulders Fund, set up by the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin to tap into financial assistance from corporate leadership to help inner city schools.

The referral Hughes received from the fund was a successful Indiana businessman whose football idol was Mike McGill, a two-way middle linebacker/fullback who, before he played for Notre Dame and the Pittsburgh Steelers, played for Bishop Noll High School, where he ran at—and sometimes over—De La Salle football player Mike Hughes in the early 1960s.

“Things just came together,” Hughes said, after the painful (for Hughes) sharing of memories of McGill endeared the donor to Hughes’s needs.

That year, supporters pledged $100,000, with like amounts pledged for each of the next four.

Hughes’s walking, talking, and a lifetime of commitment to youngsters is what really came together. He personally kept the school open and upped the enrollment to 170, with larger enrollments projected.

The basement gym and activity center was restored—along with community confidence in the school.

Since 2005, Hughes has overseen more than $800,000 in building and capital improvements. Test scores rank consistently above national averages. All graduates in recent years have been accepted to top private and Catholic schools. Seven of the Class of 2008 moved along to De La Salle.

Hughes is not the only Our Lady of Guadalupe hero. Twelve parishioners were killed in Vietnam, more than from any other parish in the United States. Today, 114 are on active duty in all branches of the services. Nobody at Guadalupe is a stranger to challenge and courage.

It has been a long time since young Mike Hughes, oldest in his family of 11, was fascinated by the bustling world of the stockyards alongside his Canaryville neighborhood as he walked from his St. Gabriel`s Parish to play at the Valentine Boys and Girls Club more than a mile away.

For the grown Mike Hughes, much still seems to be seen with child-like wonderment and
possibilities.

Thanks to him, the challenged area of Our Lady of Guadalupe is being taught to see with the same eyes, too.

One Response »

  1. Helping young people is what Mike Hughes does best! He was one of my most influential high school football coaches at Ridgewood on the northwest side in 1979 and 1980. After college, I helped him for a season at DeLaSalle in the mid-80s.

    Great story!

    Mark Vruno
    (former All State QB)
    Bartlett, IL

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.