Bourbonnais Notre Dame Academy

Bourbonnais Notre Dame Academy
A picture containing building, sky, outdoor, government building

Description automatically generated
Submitted by Sherree Benoit

The History of Bourbonnais Notre Dame Academy

Bourbonnais (population 15,256) is located in northeastern Illinois in central Kankakee County, just north of Kankakee. The town was home to the Pottawatomi Indians, who were befriended by French explorer Robert Cavalier deLaSalle during an expedition in 1679, but it wasn’t until 1830 when Canadian fur trader Francois Bourbonnais established Bourbonnais Grove. Slowly but surely, more French Canadians made their way to the area and settled. The community was incorporated in 1875.

Bourbonnais is approximately 15 miles west of the Indiana state border. The following roadways now lead to and from this busy metropolis: Interstate Highway 57, U.S. Route 45, Illinois Routes 17, 50, and 102. The Kankakee River flows to the west and south of town. The Illinois Central Gulf Railroad also has tracks which pass through town.

Notre Dame Academy’s roots run deep, according to information furnished to this author from the Kankakee County Museum. The school was the first founded in the county in 1837 as it was a public school taught by nuns from the Congregation of Notre Dame from Montreal. Several attempts to keep a school opened failed before the nuns came on September 21, 1860 and educated the female students in a stone house owned by Jean Baptiste Caron. Male students would later get their own school five years later when St. Viator Academy opened.

That was an important step in the history of education as well for the history of Bourbonnais, since a number of residents were of the Roman Catholic faith, and some had relatives that were from the Canadian province where the Viatorian order had its headquarters in North America at the time. Notre Dame grew quickly and had 140 students enrolled during its first year of operation.

Residents of Boubonnais were so impressed by the teaching of the Notre Dame nuns that in 1865, that the school building (which was built in 1860 and paid for by the township) was given to them as the result of a favorable vote. A new building was replaced a brick structure in 1910, while the existing building was transferred to the St. Viator campus for use as an infirmary.

The closing date of the all-girls’ high school occurred in June 1949 when the Superior General and her council in Montreal decided to close the school due to low enrollment, Only 42 students were taking classes at Notre Dame in 1948-49, and the remainder of the student body was sent to St. Joseph’s Academy in Kankakee to finish out their education.

In 1955, the voters decided that it would build a public school in the community, which released the Congregation of Notre Dame sisters from teaching in a public school setting. However, the parish that was affiliated with the school (Maternity Blessed Virgin Mother, or Maternity BVM for short) decided to open a Catholic grade school in June 1956, with 220 students enrolled the following September.

Those students attended classes in the 1910 building for five years before a modern facility was ready for use in October 1961. Information about this can be found at:


Year opened:                              1837

Year high school closed:              1949

Now operating as:                        Maternity BVM Grade School

School colors:                             unknown

School nickname:                        unknown

School song:                               unknown


Even though it appears that the school may not have had athletic teams that played against other schools, one would think that the school would have had activities like any other institution, such as drama, choir, band, dances, GAA (Girls’ Athletic Association), and more. We would like to hear from Notre Dame alumni who may have information of this nature.

Medallion given to 1912 graduate Catherine Cronan
A picture containing text, coin

Description automatically generated
courtesy of John Kirke
Excellence in Conduct pin given to Loretta Cronan
A picture containing text, indoor, decorated, locket

Description automatically generated
courtesy of John Kirke


goes out to Jorie Walters at the Kankakee County Museum for providing us with some information about the history of Notre Dame Academy, and to the folks at Maternity BVM Parish in Bourbonnais for more details.


We certainly can use and welcome anything you might have, including photos and memories that you may wish to share. Please contact us by clicking here on “Guest Commentary” and jotting down your thoughts, or by emailing us at Or you wish to use the mail, here’s our address:

Illinois High School Glory Days

6439 North Neva

Chicago, IL  60631

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: