Chicago Young Ladies Seminary of the Sacred Heart

Young Ladies Seminary of the Sacred Heart
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   The History of Young Ladies Seminary of the Sacred Heart

Chicago (population 2.8 million) is located along the shores of Lake Michigan as the nation’s third largest city. It grew from a village in 1803 and became incorporated in 1837, then its population boomed thru the second half of the 19th Century with a plethora of immigrants from numerous countries came to the “City of Big Shoulders” to settle and find a way of life. Chicago is accessible from four interstates, several state and US highway routes, by train service that stops at the city’s Union Station along the Chicago River, and thru the air at Midway and O’Hare Airports. As a result, the city is a melting pot of people that make up many cultures which helps define the character of Chicago.

On September 13, 1858, the Society of the Sacred Heart opened Young Ladies Seminary of the Sacred Heart (aka Convent of the Sacred Heart) on South Wabash Avenue in Chicago with two day students and five boarders, under the direction of Reverend Mother Galway and six nuns from the order. The school later moved to a location at Rush and Illinois in what is today’s downtown area, due to an increase in enrollment. Even then, the school could not sustain the growth at the new location as a whole block of ground was purchased for a new school & convent on the West Side on Taylor Street near Holy Family Church. It opened in September 1860 with 300 students enrolled, then expanded in 1866 by Rev. Arnold Damen to accommodate one thousand students!

Many promenient Chicagoans (both Catholic and non) sent their daughters to the school as the parish it was affiliated with grew to five thousand students, which was the largest in the world, according to a written account in a 1953 dissertation about Chicago parochial schools by Sr. Mary Innocenta Montay. But another immigration wave came thru Chicago and the Midwest around 1890. Those that had been settled around the school moved away to other locations, while the immigrants who bought their homes did not send their daughters to Sacred Heart.

As a result, enrollment had declined to 22 students that the order decided to move their campus to Lake Forest in 1904, where they experienced another increase of students to 100 before long. By then, the school was beginning to offer junior college courses, which in turn helped spur the birth of Barat College in 1918. The name Barat comes from the founder of the Society of the Sacred Heart order, Sr. Madeleine Sophie Barat. That school closed its doors in 2005, despite having been taken over by DePaul University three years prior.

Sacred Heart graduated its last high school-aged student in 1961 and was renamed Woodlands Academy of the Sacred Heart. That school continues to carry on the traditions that Sacred Heart started close to 150 years ago.


Year opened in Chicago:                    1858

Year expanded for 1,000 students:      1866

Year school moved to Lake Forest:     1904

Year closed and renamed:                 1961


about the history of the Young Ladies Seminary of the Sacred Heart? If so, we’d like to hear from you or a relative that may have been a student at the school. Memories are great, and so are photos, academic offerings, and extracurricular activities. Just email us at or write us via USPS to:

IHSGD Website

6439 North Neva

Chicago, IL  60631

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