The History of St. Xavier Academy of Ottawa
Ottawa (population 18,307) is located in central LaSalle County in north-central Illinois.
Ottawa serves as the LaSalle County seat and was established in 1837. The city is rich in history, including being the
site of the first Lincoln-Douglas debate in 1858 (see pictures below). It is also home of the locally famous Reddick Mansion, formerly
owned by sheriff and state politician William Reddick. Two major waterways, the Illinois and Fox Rivers, join forces
in the heart of the town. Two railroad lines, the CRI & P and the AT & SF, also intersect in town. Major
roadways connecting Ottawa to Illinois in every direction include Interstate Highway 80, U.S. Route 6, and Illinois Routes
23 and 71.
Included in Ottawa's rich history is its equally-rich educational opportunities.This is where St.
Xavier Academy comes in. Known as St. Joseph's from 1859 to 1900, the Academy was established in the year 1900
and was primarily a college preparatory school run by the Sisters of Mercy for teenage girls. The nuns were summoned
to Ottawa in 1859 to teach at what was known as St. Joseph's Hospital & Orphan Asylum. This title was a
little misleading as it actually was never an orphanage. The "orphanage" part was added to show the truthlfulness of the Mercy
side of the order during an 1867 charter to qualify for legal corporation status in the state of Illinois. The
St. Xavier name comes from St. Xavier Convent in Chicago. This is where the Sisters of Mercy were based when the
request came to send help to Ottawa.
The Sisters taught grade and high school courses to boys and girls from 1859-1900 when three local
Catholic parishes opened their own grade schools. At this point, St. Xavier Academy became an exclusively all-girls' high
school. The Bishop of Peoria, Joseph Schlarman, saw a need during World War II to have a co-educational high school
in Ottawa. In 1946, Bishop Joseph Schlarman received a Papal decree from Pope Pius XII to transform SXA into a co-ed
facility. A new wing was added to the building which included six classrooms, a cafeteria, and a gym/theatre.
Additionally, there was a convent for the nuns in a home near the school. The nuns were eventually
moved into the fourth and fifth floors of the school building after the co-educational transformation was completed. The
school did survive a fire in 1898 which destroyed what was to be a part of an existing building (constructed in 1888), which
also burned. The VERY original school building (built in 1874) was moved 4 or 5 blocks west of the school's current location
and is still used today as a private residence.
In 1946 the new co-educational institution was renamed Ottawa Catholic High School. Eventually a full, four-year contingent of co-ed students was established. The school was then renamed Marquette High School in 1949, in honor of Father Jacques Marquette, who arrived in the area in 1673.
Marquette High School is still going strong today. The original St. Xavier building, however, has not
faired so well. The building in the photos on this page was torn down in 1991. The demolition took place after Marquette
built a newer building just to the east of the SXA building. However, part of the entryway from the St. Xavier building
was salvaged and serves in the same capacity with the new MHS building, as evidenced by the photo above, taken by MHS graduate
Kev Varney in 2006.
Ottawa St. Xavier High School Quick Facts
Year school opened as St. Joseph's: 1859
Year named SXA (girls only):
Year SXA named Ottawa Catholic (co-ed): 1946
Year building razed:
each class chose their own
School Fight Song: none
Being an all-girls Catholic school before 1946 did not afford St. Xavier girls the opportunity to compete
in inter-scholastic athletic competition. The school did have a Girls Athletic Association club, but that was the
extent of their athletic endeavors. Private schools could not even join the IHSA until 1941, further inhibiting
St. Xavier's athletic growth.
**Four graduates of St. Xavier Academy were named to the St. Xavier/Ottawa Catholic/Marquette Alumni
Hall of Fame. They include the following:
Sister Martina Schomas RSM
Class of 1918, taught at both SXA and Marquette, also a graduate of St. Xavier's College.
Dorothy M. Crawford
Class of 1921, taught in Ottawa schools, graduate of Illinois State Normal University and University of
Sister Marie Pillion RSM
Class of 1933, taught at Marquette High School, graduate of St. Xavier College, and Fordham University.
Class of 1928, Office Manager and Benefactor, graduate of Browns' Business College.
The rumors have floated for years, and many have "swore" to this being a fact, but it seems the
old building pictured was rumored to house ghosts of its storied past. Many ears have heard footsteps on
the upper floors as well as busy noises in the cafeteria kitchen and hallways during meetings at night, only
to find them empty upon investigation. One wonders if those lonely spirits have moved into the "new" building, even more
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