Galena Saint Joseph/Saint Rose/Saint Clement Academies

St. Joseph’s & St. Clement (left) St. Rose (right)
A house with trees in the front

Description automatically generated with low confidence
Credit” “History of Parishes of the Catholic Diocese of Rockford” by Rev. Cornelius J. Kirkfleet

(NOTE: This page is dedicated to three Catholic academies that were short-lived in their histories to the people of Galena between the years of 1848-1887. Very little information has been found, which is the reason why all three schools are sharing a page. Should more information be presented to us in the future, it is conceivable that each school may receive their own page. However, due to the passage of time, it is possible that information is no longer available.)

                                   The History of Galena St. Joseph’s Young Ladies Academy

Galena (population 3,400) is in northwestern Illinois in Jo Daviess County along the Mississippi and Galena Rivers, a short distance from the Iowa and Wisconsin borders. The city is known as a popular tourist attraction to those from Chicago, some of whom keep second homes in Galena. Other features include golf courses and ski resorts that bring people to the area, as does historical architecture and history.

Civil War general and the 18th President of the United States Ulysses S. Grant resided in Galena prior to serving his country, All told, Grant was one of nine Union Army generals that hailed from Galena, as did Grant’s son Frederick Dent, radio host Don McNeill, writer Herman Melville, as well as Wyoming Governor William Richards and Iowa Governor John Gear.

Galena was occupied by the Sac & Fox Nation in the 17th Century when French Canadians began to explore the area. Lead was discovered in the area by the Native Americans who used it for body paint. The name of the city came from a mineral of the same name, which is the natural form of lead sulfide. The French trappers that discovered the area also mined for this ore mineral, but it wasn’t until 1816 that the first boatload of lead was shipped down the Mississippi.

Three years later after statehood was granted to Illinois, a trading post was set up in Galena, and it led to the first steamboat coming to town in 1824. Over 27,000 tons of lead was mined annually by 1845, but it dramatically slowed down by the end of the 20th Century. The population dropped from 14,000 in 1850 to its current 3,400.

About 85 percent of the buildings in Galena have been given historical status on the National Register of Historic Places, including U.S. Grant’s home, the Old Market House State Historic Site (built in 1845), the DeSoto House Hotel (built in 1855, and still operating today), St. Michael’s Catholic Church, as well as many locations along downtown Main Street.

With the close location to the two rivers, Galena has flooded numerous times, which has threatened the historical buildings. The first known flood was recorded in 1838, which was high enough to allow steamboats travel on city streets. Almost 100 years later in 1937, up to five feet of water caused serious damage to downtown buildings, and in 1993, eight feet of water gave residents concern, but the floodgates stopped the highest amount of flood water in the history of the Mississippi and Galena.

In 1848, the Sisters of Mercy came from Chicago at the request of Bishop William Quarter to open St. Joseph’s Young Ladies Academy. The school was also called the “Convent on Broadway,” in reference to the name of the street it was located.

The number of students enrolled grew to 80 by 1849, but the school closed by 1857 due to the needs of having the Sisters of Mercy’s services being needed elsewhere at the request of their order as well as the great amount distance of being located away from the diocesan home in Chicago.

This would not be the only time that a Catholic girls’ school would be located in Galena. Later on, St. Rose of Lima and St. Clement’s Academy would attempt to succeed where the Sisters of Mercy tried in Galena.


Year opened:            1848

Year closed:             1857

Also known as:         “Convent on Broadway”

The History of Galena St. Rose of Lima Academy

After St. Joseph’s was closed in 1857 by the Sisters of Mercy, the Sisters of St. Dominic from Sinsinawa, WI opened another private boarding & day school for girls called St. Rose of Lima. The school was located at the corner of Bench and Franklin Streets in a building that was erected by Rev. Samuel Mazzuchelli, who was the founder of the order. He was known for opening churches and schools in eastern Iowa, southwestern Wisconsin, and northwestern Illinois. The school was closed in 1865, but the reasons have been lost to time.  


Year opened:           1857

Year closed:            1865

The History of Galena St. Clement Academy

Fifteen years after they closed the doors, the Sisters of St. Dominic returned from Sinsinawa to teach in the same building that housed St. Joseph for not only girls, but boys as well. The nuns also set up a convent at St. Michael’s Parish, and gradually added ninth and tenth grade classes to their curriculum during the mid-1880’s along with commercial courses. There were plans to have a four-year course of study for high-school aged students in 1887, but there are no records to prove that the school ever did expand to a four-year institution.


Year opened:            1880

Year closed:             1887


Certainly, we would appreciate all the help we can get from historians of northwestern Illinois, southwestern Wisconsin, or eastern Iowa that may have some information about these three academies. Our email address is or you can write to us at the following address:

Illinois High School Glory Days

6439 North Neva

Chicago, IL  60631

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