Bourbonnais St. Viator Academy

Bourbonnais St. Viator College and HS Campus
A black and white photo of a town with a river running through it

Description automatically generated with low confidence
Courtesy of Sherree Benoit

                           The History of Bourbonnais St. Viator 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 explorer Robert Cavalier deLaSalle during an expedition in 1679, but it wasn’t until 1830 when 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.

St. Viator Academy was established in 1865 when the Clerics of St. Viator (CSV) sent three men to open a school for boys. Rev. Peter Beaudoin along with two lay brothers, Augustin Martel and Jean Baptiste Bernard came from Canada on orders from the Canadian Province of the CSV to do so after a visit from Rev. James Cote, pastor of Maternity Catholic Church in Bourbonnais, to convince the CSV to begin a school to be companion to an all-girls’ school that was established in the community five years earlier.

The school started slow, eventually buying the building they were using, then added a three-story addition in 1868. St. Viator’s offered education from grade school thru college as the first collegiate graduates received their degrees in 1874. Additional buildings for use as dormitories were built later.

By 1890, the school was offering five different courses of study: preparatory, commercial, classical, “letters,” “scientific,” and seminary. In addition, the school also had a military department with six companies of cadets.

St. Viator Gymnasium
A picture containing text, tree, outdoor, house

Description automatically generated
Submitted by Sherree Benoit

St. Viator survived a major fire in February 1906, which destroyed nearly every building except the gymnasium and an unfinished alumni hall. The school would rebuild, and flourish. The gym did not escape flame damage as it would be destroyed in 1926, but a newer gym along with another building were built in their place shortly thereafter. That gym would be the site of the Illinois Catholic High School Association’s state basketball tournament in 1929-30-31 as teams from downstate Illinois came together to decide who would represent them at the National Catholic Basketball Tournament in Chicago.

The school closed in 1931 due to other parish and private schools in the area opening, along with increased enrollment at the college, and inability to keep the high school classes in a separate building from the college courses. An additional factor, with the onset of the depression, was financing became extremely difficult. The college itself closed in 1938, and the campus was bought by Olivet Nazarene University in 1939 as it moved in the following summer. Olivet Nazarene University sold their original property at Olivet, in Eastern Illinois south of Danville, to the Catholic Church, with the campus administered by the LaSallette Fathers. Today a private academy administered by the Society of St. Pius X is found at the original Olivet campus. Olivet Nazarene remains at the Bourbannais location, as do several of the buildings that were used at St. Viator’s, which include an administration building, fieldhouse/gymnasium, mens’ residence hall, and dining hall (now a business hall). Some of the St. Viator’s buildings today are used by the local Catholic parish.

Some of the notable graduates from St. Viator’s College were Archbishop Fulton Sheen (an El Paso native), who later went on to fame after his 1918 graduation as the host of programs such as “The Catholic Hour” and “Life is Worth Living” on radio and television. (Archbishop Sheen attended High School at Peoria Spalding, found elsewhere on this site) You can read more about Sheen thru this link:

Also graduating from St. Viator were Bishop Bernard J. Sheil, founder of the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) and administrator at Lewis Holy Name Institute in Lockport, along with former Chicago White Sox first baseman Dick (Bud) Clancy, an Odell native who would hit .281 in nine seasons of major league play with the Chisox, Brooklyn Dodgers, and Philadelphia Phillies.


Year opened:       1865

Year closed:         1931

Now used as:       Olivet Nazarene University

School colors:      Gold & Purple

School nickname: unknown

School song:        “Ye Fighting Men of Viator”

                             Submitted by George H. Scheetz

                             Composed by James Dalrymple and John Ryan

                             Music by arranged by Leslie Roch

Ye fighting men of Viator,

With banners of Gold and Purple hue,

Strive, strive with might and main,

Loyal hearts beat for you!

Rah!   Rah!

Bold, defiant conquerors,

Fight, fight, fight for victory,

The cheer ring out, one might shout,

For Viator’s varsity!

Rah!  Rah!  Rah!


We are aware that the school offered at least football and basketball for its male students, as evidenced by information found in yearbooks at Bloomington Central Catholic High School, which was preceded by St. Mary’s and Trinity High Schools. Baseball might have been played at the school, in light of the fact that a major league player did attend school on campus.

The college also offered athletics as a member of the Little 19 Conference in Illinois. Information such as win-loss records, star athletes, and coaches names are needed to enhance the history of athletics at St. Viator Academy.

The school was host to the state Downstate Illinois Catholic High School Basketball Tournament from 1929-1931, with St. Viator finishing second once in the state tournament to Peoria Spalding Institute, according to a story on the IHSA website ( They also were active on the gridiron, hosting Bloomington Trinity in a night game in 1929 during a series of games that the two schools played against each other in 1920’s.


from Eugene DesLauriers:

“I am Eugene DesLauriers. My father and brother attended St. Viator’s from the late 20’s to mid 30’s. My father, Edward E DesLauriers, boxed while he was an undergrad at college in Cicero, Illinois in the early 30’s and earned money for his family with 18 children. His brother Francis (Father Tacky they called him?) attended at the same time.

“My father after graduation became the first Athletic Director at,St. Viators. In 1936 became Athletic Director of Bendix Brakes in South Bend, IN. It was in South Bend that he worked with as well belonged to Sacred Heart Parish in South Bend. Later all of our family were all members and practicing Catholics at Notre Dame.

“Father (Theodore) Hesburgh knew my father and his brother Father Francis.  Together they worked on civil,rights,and integrated all the catholic schools 50’s on. Father Hesburgh, Moose Krause and the Nuns of St Mary’s were frequent visitors at our dinner table on Sundays.

“The connections and bonds these gentlemen had were forged long before I was born and are based on St Viator’s involvement with Notre Dame and all the other Catholic collegiate schools.”


about the history of St. Viator’s Academy? Please let us know if you do so, since we would like to find out more about the school colors, nickname, fight song, and its outstanding athletic teams. Photos are helpful and needed as well.

A special thanks goes out to Jorie Walters at the Kankakee County Museum ( for providing us with information about the history of the school along with Jim Reckard at Bloomington Central Catholic High School in Bloomington, IL for allowing us to find information about St. Viator in yearbooks from Bloomington St. Mary’s/Trinity High School.

Please send your information to us at or to:

Illinois High School Glory Days

6439 North Neva

Chicago, IL  60631

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: