Salesianum was established in 1903 by three Oblates of Saint Francis de Sales – Fr. Charles Fromentin, O.S.F.S., Fr. Louis Jacquier, O.S.F.S. and Fr. James Isenring, O.S.F.S.
Twelve boys formed the first student body of the school which was affectionately called the "French College" or the “Collegiate School.” Soon after it opened, the school was officially named “Salesianum” (Latin for “the House of Sales”) in honor of Saint Francis de Sales. The first school began in an old converted boardinghouse at the intersection of 8th and West Streets. Boys received a rigorous classical education for the annual tuition of $18. Most students were the sons of Irish, Italian, German, and Polish immigrants.
The school was founded with the purpose of educating young men in the example of the gentleman saint, Francis de Sales. Saint Francis de Sales (1567 – 1622), Bishop of Geneva and Doctor of the Church was a prominent Christian humanist, and is known for his two great works: “The Introduction to the Devout Life” and, “The Treatise on the Love of God.” With characteristic humility and common sense, De Sales taught that all Christians are called to holiness. Salesian spirituality encourages followers to “Live Jesus” through optimism, gentility and humility. De Sales stressed that Christians should bring God into everyday life by “doing ordinary things extraordinarily well,” for it is in the present moment that we find God.
In 1907, the first four students graduated from Salesianum. Until the 1940s, the school was quite small and had fewer than 400 students total. This population reflected the Catholic ethnic populations of Wilmington and the surrounding areas. In these early years, as is still the case today, Salesianum drew students from as far away as Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The school quickly became known for athletic as well as academic prowess, and was one of the founding members of the Philadelphia Catholic League in the early 1920s.
From the beginning, Salesianum’s faculty strived to educate the “whole person.”
From the beginning, Salesianum’s faculty strived to educate the “whole person.” By 1914, Salesianum established baseball, basketball, and theater programs. In the 1920s, the Senior Card Party and Easter Prom occupied the minds of seniors. By the 1940s, football, golf and tennis were added to the athletic program and a variety of activities, such as the Glee Club, band, yearbook and school trips rounded out the student experience. A vigorous academic curriculum remained the mainstay of the school. French was taught to boys heading off to fight in World War I, and as early as 1921, the school catalog stated that “when a boy says he has no homework to occupy him, the Principal should be notified.” (Salesianum: The First One Hundred Years, 27).