The History of Morris St. Angela Academy
Morris (population 13,000) is located in Grundy County in north-central
Illinois, about 60 miles southwest of Chicago. The community can be reached by either Interstate 80,
Illinois 47, and US 6, and by boat on the Illinois River as well as the Mazon
River. The Illinois and Michigan Canal also was platted thru the community.
Morris was first settled in 1834 and received its name from the Honorable Issac Morris,
who was instrumental in having the town named as the seat of Grundy County.The name Grundy comes from Felix
Grundy, a prominent senator from Tennessee that served as U.S. Attorney General until his death in 1840.
Prior to the settlers, the area was settled by Mound Indians, who were discovered
by fur trader and explorer Robert Rene Cavalier de la Salle between 1679-1690. A number of their dwellings (called mounds)
were found in 1840 while the Illinois and Michigan Canal was dug to connect Lake Michigan to the Illinois River at LaSalle.
Also to be remembered is Chief Shabbona, who led the Potawatomi tribe in the 1800's.
His ability to befriend the settlers and warn them of dangers won him the title of "friend to the White Man." Another Potawatomi
chief, Wauponsee, was also helpful to the early settlers, and in return, a school is named for Shabbona,
while Wauponsee has a street in his honor.
St. Angela's Academy was built and opened in 1857 by Mary McNellis,
whose father John donated the land. The Sisters of the Holy Cross from Notre Dame sent two sisters to open
the school, which was set up to educate girls only. Students either boarded at the school or were day students.
The building was a three-story structure built by John McNellis, who was a businessman
and philanthropist in Morris. A wing was added in 1861, and was chartered by the state in 1869. Another three-story wing was
built in 1872.
During its lifetime, the school boarded as many as 75 students, In one instance, enrollment actually increased
instead of going down. In 1894, the American Protective Association (which opposed influence and progress
by Catholic organizations and those who were of the Catholic faith) tried to press St. Angela's into closing, but all
it did was strengthen the community and force the APA to look elsewhere. A number of families were impressed enough with the
tact that was used to counteract the APA that they sent their daughters to St. Angela's and in turn, forced the school to
build more additions.
St. Angela's was known for teaching art, culture, faith, and refinement to young ladies, some of which were
known to start college or university studies as sophomores instead of freshmen due to the high standards of education set
by the Sisters of the Holy Cross. Those students were also fortunate enough to get a head start on their careers after college
as teachers by being able to sit for their teaching exam certificates a year earlier.
The school only lasted until 1957 when it closed due to progress in Morris. St, Angela's fell victim to
the wrecking ball in 1959 as a subdivision was built in the area where the school was once located.