|Acaemy of Our Lady Cornerstone
The history of Catholic education and of the Catholic Church in central Illinois begins with the first explorers of the
Illinois River Valley, Louis Jolliet or Joliet, and his principal companion, Fr. Jacques Marquette, S.J. Their journey
down the Illinois River Valley, and up the Mississippi from the confluence of the two rivers, was a voyage of great discovery,
but also one which first brought the Christian faith to those they met. Fr. Marquette offered daily Mass on their journey
in 1673, including notable sites near Utica and present day Peoria, and upon their return, missionaries and explorers
were sent forth.
The Frenchmen, of course, took advantage of the new economic opportunities, the missionaries established chapels and
also taught lessons, helping the locals to learn and teaching them catechism. Priests established a mission at Pimiteoui,
a native settlement near present day Peoria. Fort Crevecoeur was established across the river by the French. In
addition to Fr. Marquette, other notable priest in those early years were Fr. Allouez, S. J., and Fr. Louis Hennepin, and
Fr. Ribourde, who were Franciscan Recollects. Fr. Hennepin had been the first European to describe Niagara Falls,
and after his work on the Illinois River, was asked to map the upper Mississippi River, and discovered the Falls of St. Anthony,
at present day Minneapolis, in 1680. By 1698 the number of priest in Central Illinois was such that the a Solemn High
Mass was celebrated on November 21, the Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
By 1846 the Church of St. Mary was founded at Peoria. This would become the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Immaculate
Conception in 1877, when the Diocese of Peoria was erected, and a new edifice was constructed. In the mid 1800's the
Sunday School and catechism lessons, and other instruction which had been given piecemeal in the various settlements and parishes,
started to be formalized with the foundations of schools. By the 1860 census, Peoria County had 36,000, by 1870, 48,000,
many of them Catholics, all of them in need of education. In the 1860's needs to educate young ladies in central Peoria
would be met by the establishment of what would become the Academy of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, known usually by the shorter
name, Academy of Our Lady.
Those who founded schools during this time were faced with difficulties. The Country was ravaged by Civil War. Fr. Ryan,
the "poet priest of the Confederacy," had been a local pastor, and so there was some strife even among Catholic. In addition,
there was some controversy as to the education of women beyond basic skills. In 1863, amidst the trials of the Civil War,
Father Abram Ryan arranged for seven Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet, an order of nuns based in the St. Louis area, to
travel to Peoria to begin a school for young ladies. At that time, and indeed until 1877, all of Illinois was united in one
Diocese, that of Chicago, which operated under the purview of the Archbishop of St. Louis.
|Sr. Mary Frederica Jacques
|Music Instructor 1923 - 1932
The nuns began their school as did most religious of that period, by opening their convent, and educating the young people
who came. As can be imagined, with the vast growth in the area, the convent classrooms quickly became inadequate, and by 1874
the school was expanded, and officially opened under it’s name of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart.
There was some controversy over the education of women in the United States (not just in the Church, but through all society;
the Church had long supported the education of women, as witnessed by the establishment and growth of religious orders of
nuns at least since the fourth century. The nuns had to learn, as they chanted the psalms, most of which were in Latin). The
first Bishop of Peoria, John Lancaster Spalding, noted authority throughout US society on the role of education, stated "If
we leave half the race in ignorance, how shall we hope to lift the other half into the light of truth and love? Let woman's
mental power increase, let her influence grow...."
From the Foundation of the Spalding Institute in 1898, which was across the street from the Academy, both schools shared
teachers and occasionally facilities. Benedictine and Viatorian priests, and also the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate
Conception, Heading Avenue, Peoria, all taught at the institutions through the years.
In 1973 the two schools joined in one administration and had a synthesized academic program. When Bergan High School was
founded in Peoria in the 1960's, secondary students in Peoria’s Catholic schools attended coeducational classes for
the first time. The sharing of classes, then, did not seem curious when the two schools began to operate as one in 1973. The
Academy of Our Lady, Spalding, and Bergan High School were merged to form Peoria Notre Dame High School in 1988.
The Academy of Our Lady will not be soon forgotten. Many of the alumnae of The Academy or Academy/Spalding are well
known figures in the Church or throughout the state of Illinois. School facilities were extensive. The buildings
of the Academy of Our Lady, including Dunne Hall (the main academic building) the Art and Music Building, which included a
small theater, and the gymansium and "bridge" are currently used for the Children's Home of Illinois, itself a Peoria
institution, founded in the 1800's. The former Convent Building, across the two story "bridge," which also had classrooms,
is currently used for Curial Offices of the Catholic Diocese of Peoria, and is named for Bishop Fulton J. Sheen.
The Sheen Pastoral Center is located directly across Madison Avenue from the Spalding Gymnasium.
Alumnae have recounted that when they attended
classes in the Convent, the domestic sisters or the other non teaching sisters, would peek at them through the small glass
windows which seperated the classroom area from the cloister. The sisters would often wave at them, and if they were
lucky, the sisters would bring them a fresh baked treat.
Peoria Academy of Our Lady "Quick Facts"
School colors: Blue & White
School Building: Still used for Children's Home and Sheen Pastoral Center
School Fight Song: "All Hail to Our School" (words courtesy of Alice Brophy)
All hail to our shool, the best in the land!
Her story we love to tell.
She has stood for the right like a bright beacon light
all who have loved her so well.
So, here's our pledge, AOL, AOL,
To be true, to be loyal to you, AOL.
a cheer and a rah for the school we love so well.
Hand and heart are yours, AOL.
|Academy of Our Lady School Song
|Provided by Donna McNamara