Rock Island Villa de Chantal H.S.

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Villa de Chantal High School
villachantelhs.jpg
Rock Island, Illinois

The History of the Villa de Chantal
 
Rock Island (population 39,684) is located in northwestern Illinois.  It is the county seat of Rock Island County.  According to www.rigov.org/visitors/historical.html the first settlement in the area was Fort Armstrong in the early 1800s.  The area where Rock Island now sits was once heavily occupied by Native Americans including the famous Sauk Indian warrior Black Hawk.  The city was first platted in 1835 and named Stephenson.  The name was changed to Rock Island in 1841.The Mississippi and Rock Rivers were responsible for the cities' early growth. In 1856 the Chicago & Rock Island Railroad made its way to the area causing an even bigger population "boom".  Today Rock Island is one of the original "Quad Cities".  Interstate Highways 74, 80, and 280 all lead to Rock Island. U.S. Routes 6, 67, and 150 as well as Illinois Routes 2 and 92 also lead you to and from Rock Island.
 
Rock Island has an extensive and long history of providing quality education for its children.  This history includes not only public schooling, but private and parochial schooling as well.  From 1898 through 1978 there was an all-girls Catholic High School in Rock Island named Villa de Chantal.  The "Villa girls" were very proud of their school, the "V de C."  The history of this school is written about below by our good friend Richard Soseman.
 
Rock Island Villa de Chantal High School Quick Facts
 
Year opened:                           1898
Year building built:                    1901
Year boarding portion ceased:   1958  
Last graduating class:              1975
Year officially closed:                1978

Villa de Chantal High School
villachantelhs2.jpg
Rock Island, Illinois

Villa de Chantal School

      Courtesy of Richard Soseman

The Sisters of the Visitation traveled from Maysville, Kentucky to their new home in Rock Island, Illinois at the invitation of the first Bishop of the Diocese of Peoria, John Lancaster Spalding. Upon their arrival in 1898, the sisters incorporated a school. According to "The Catholic History of the Tri-Cities" c. 1905, "By its charter the Academy possesses all the rights and privileges of a collegiate institution." There is no evidence that the nuns conducted college courses, except for their own sisters in training. From the beginning, though, the sisters conducted a High School for girls.  

Soon after its founding, a suitable building was constructed, atop a Mississippi River bluff in Rock Island. The aformentioned "Catholic History" says of the property 

"It is beautifully situated on an elevation of 165 feet. From this height, with its rolling hills, its deep ravine, its valleys and thickly wooded slopes, the country can be seen for miles around... Besides all that is pleasing to the eye, there is sweet music for the ear, here one learns to know the different notes of the birds, whose beautiful drama of life is as full of the comic, and alas! Of the tragic, too, as the life of man... In the midst of all this beauty and cheerfulness, is situated the academy, which is grand in architecture, but still holds the appearance of an artistic and refined home." 

The first main building, designed by renowned architect George Stauduhar, was built in 1901, and the rest of the west complex was built a few years later, in 1907, all in the Late Gothic Revival Style. The chapel was dedicated in 1908. The Rock Island Argus reported on June 5, 1975 that "by February 1901 the nuns and boarders had moved into the building. Classes were held for day and boarding students from ages 5 to 18. They learned nursery rhymes, Spencerian script, elocution, astronomy, calisthenics, and fine arts. They also accepted postulants." In the early 1900's, 120 students were educated there, with 60 being boarding students.  

A chaplains bungalow, also designed by Stauduhar, was completed in 1919. In 1929 the east buildings were constructed, including a school building and gymnasium.  

Originally envisioned as a boarding school, the school also came to have many day students. It remained a girls academy through its entire existence. The boarding of students discontinued in the 1958. The last class graduated from the Villa de Chantal in 1975, and the school officially closed in 1978. The monastery of sisters closed in 1992, but the building has continued in use, and was given landmark status in 1994. A fire destroyed most of the west complex on July 13, 2005. Throughout its existence, what was said of the Villa in the "Catholic History" seems to have held true "it is not conducted on a boarding school plan, but is rather like a home, where all the members of the family live in peace and harmony."

Villa de Chantal School Fire Damage
villachantelhs3fire.jpg
West Complex - July 2005
MEMORIES
 
**From Craig Thurling:
 
"I have just found out that the Villa de Chantal burnt down in July 2005.  I've very sorry to hear about that as I used to live there and I have very fond memories of the place.
 
I am from Birmingham, England and from the 14th August 1997 - 5th June 1998 I lived at the Villa whilst it was owned by Joe Seng.
 
The reason I lived there is that at the time I was an Intern at Black Hawk College working for Marty Hanson, I was given the choice of either living with a Host Family or living at the Villa. Whilst I was there I lived with Germans, Russians, Japanese and Columbians, I also became very good friends with the people who worked there.  At the time Joe Seng held events there such as weddings and the atmosphere was always a happy one.
 
When it was time for me to leave I was quite sad as I had a fantastic time there (even though it was haunted and it was a bit creepy walking round the old school bit at night). My friends and I would walk around it and try and scare ourselves silly - still we had fun."
 
**From Lucia Logan Vranizan (Class of 71):
 
"Have you read the history book written by the nuns at the Villa, about the Villa, "Bells on Two Rivers"?  It has great stories.
 
I remember looking out over the grounds from my 4th floor piano practice room during the first snowfall of the winter.  The white snow contrasted on the naked, black oak tree limbs.  I opened one side of the long casement windows, sat on the windowsill, turned up the radiator for heat  and  enjoyed the snowfall.  It was a beautiful quiet moment among the other 20 pianos playing.   Sister Dorothy, the hall monitor always listening outside the closed door caught me and made me return to piano practice. 
 
The sisters had an old dog they kept tied outside the back door of the cafeteria.  Sister Patricia, head chef, feed him our scraps from lunch. 
 
Sisters Lucy and Miriam, the math teachers had pool table contests every Saturday night. They used geometry to win the  weekly tournaments.  All the other sisters cheered their favorite competitor. 
 
In 4th grade, Sister Baptista gave me a lily of the valley and a pussy willow branch that I rooted and planted at  our house.  The pussy willow grew for 50 years and died the year my mother moved from the house.  The lilies of the valley still bloom for the new owners.  I have had a plant nursery for 30 years.  Little did she know that nun gave me my business career!
 
The nuns, clothed in their black robes, were real people who enjoyed simple real people events "
 
**From Walter J. Schwager, Jr.:
 
"I was born in Rock Island June 23, 1944.  My father was a dentist, Dr. Walter J. Schwager, Sr, D.D.S. who practiced in Rock Island from 1937 until 1956.  My eldest sister, Carol (deceased) attended the Villa from her sophomore year and graduated from the Villa. My next eldest sister, Elizabeth Ann Schwager,  attended the Villa for her Freshman year. The good sisters allowed boys to attend kindergarten which I did.  The family moved Rock Island in 1956.  Carol took voice, piano and I believe organ lessons there and my sister Elizabeth took piano lessons.  Both sisters likes the Villa.  I just got to try and be minimally social and not make excretory mistakes. I remember the music programs and recitals.  I also recall the May Dances around the May Pole.
 
My father provided dental services to the sisters who lived in strict cloister and his friend Dr. Clement P. Cunningham, M.D., was one of the physicians to provide medical services for the nuns. 
 
The grounds were beautiful!  What a place, the grotto, tennis courts, the gardens and all the trees and pants and handsome building. I knew that the sisters had fallen on hard times and had to be removed as they strictly observed poverty.  I saw the place in the late 1980's when it had been purchased and a group was turning it into a business incubator and business center.  At that time they showed me where trees had grown through the failed roof up and trough the roof.  When I saw it a lot of work was being tone to fix and rehab the place and I talked to someone about where things had been on the property in the 1950's.
 
I have great memories of Rock Island and of the Villa.  It is sad that it is now history and that such a place has no place today. I am finding that a lot of the schools I attended are now closed and gone.
 
I write this as I happened on this site as a fluke.  I entered the site name that was on a picture of the 1937 Springfield St. James Trade School (HS). My father-in-law, Frank Tapocik was on that football team. After finding that and some investigating I happened on the Villa and it grabbed me.
 
Don't know if any of this is useful but wanted to at least pass on a tiny bit of what was the Villa."
 
If You Have Further Information
 
If you have any further information you wish to provide regarding Villa de Chantal High School in Rock Island please write to us via e-mail at ihsgdwebsite@comcast.net.  You can also contact us via real mail at:
 
Illinois HS Glory Days
6439 N. Neva St.
Chicago, Il.   60631