Cahokia St. Joseph Institute

The History of Cahokia St. Joseph Institute

Cahokia (population 16,391) is located in southwestern Illinois along the Mississippi River. The community takes its name from the Cahokia Mounds, which was inhabited by Native Americans at the time it was discovered by French-Canadians in the latter part of the 1690’s.

As the explorers became to settle, priests from the Seminary of the Foreign Missions of Quebec attempted to convert the Cahokian and Tamaroan Indians to Christianity, and built a log church that was dedicated to the Holy Family. Within 50 years, the area became one of the larger French colonial towns in North America.

Cahokia became a trading post with over 3,000 residents and had a successful business district, which rivaled that of Kaskaskia 50 miles down river. Farmers stayed and planted wheat while maintaining peaceful relations with the Native Americans.

But all of that ended in 1763 as the French were forced to give up Cahokia to the British as the result of losing the French & Indian War. Many residents were in fear of the British, and moved across the Mississippi into what is now St. Genevieve and St. Louis. Thanks to George Rogers Clark, Cahokia was taken from the British in 1778 during the Revolutionary War and a court was set up there. The courthouse was used as a territorial courthouse and political center until 1801 when it expanded its boundaries to take in a sizable area that stretched all the way to Canada. That ended in 1814 when St. Clair County (where Cahokia is located) had decreased in size and moved the county seat to Belleville.

St. Joseph Institute was opened in 1836 by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Lyons, France on April 7th for the young ladies of the area. Villagers referred to the school as “the Abbey” as 30 day students and five boarders were there when the school opened. All instruction was done in the nuns’ native tongue, which was French.

The school grew quickly and expanded in 1837 with a new chapel and classroom. However, the annual spring floods on the Mississippi took their toll and in 1844, it forced the nuns to leave until 1848 when it reopened with 50 students.

The flooding again forced the sisters to leave in 1851, only to return the following year before being permanently withdrawn in 1856 and leaving the school.


Year opened:                 1836

Year closed by flood:      1844

Reopened:                     1848

Closed for good:             1856


then we invite you to contact us about what you know. We would be most happy to include details about the school, what subjects might have been taught, how long a school year might have been, and more. Even a photo or sketch of the building would be nice for us to post on this page. Please contact us by email at or send it thru the mail at this address:

Illinois High School Glory Days

6439 North Neva

Chicago, IL  60631

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