Kaskaskia Academy of the Visitation

The History of Kaskaskia Academy of the Visitation

Kaskaskia is located in southwestern Illinois along the Mississippi River in Randolph County. It was the site of the first state capital in Illinois from 1818-1820 that was started as a Native American village. Missionaries established a mission there in 1703 in the hope of converting the population to the Catholic faith, plus the French came and set up a trading post. Thirty years later, Fort Kaskaskia was erected, but was destroyed at the end of the French & Indian War in 1763 by the British, who captured the site and held it until 1778 when George Rogers Clark led colonial forces to victory and claimed it for Virginia. The community served as the capital of the Illinois Territory from 1809 to 1818 before statehood was granted. After the state capital moved to Vandalia in 1820, Kaskaskia continued to thrive as a river town, but succumbed to a flood in 1844, and forced the community to move south and away from the Mississippi River. The original location of Kaskaskia became an island at that point, and endured annual floods. The flood of 1881 was the final straw as it completely wiped out all remnants of Kaskaskia Island.

The Academy of the Visitation was opened in 1833 by the Sisters of the Visitation from Georgetown University at the request of Bishop Joseph Rosati of St. Louis, whose diocese at the time included the entire state of Illinois. The school was the first Catholic institution for girls in the state of Illinois, as Mother Agnes Brent along with six other nuns arrived in May 1833 to open the school. Residents such as Col. Pierre Menard (a former Lieutenant Governor of Illinois) and merchant William Morrison had daughters that they wanted to have an education, so they petitioned Bishop Rosati to send for the Visitadines to come on behalf of the residents.

The school grew to 30 students within its first three months of operation, doing so in the second floor of the Morrison home until they moved into an empty building owned by Menard as the result of large crack that might have been caused by an 1812 earthquake of the New Madrid Fault. That building remained the school’s home until 1837 when Col. Menard built a four-story building that was ready to be moved into in 1837 at a cost of $30,000. The Visitadines were grateful to their patron that they renamed it the Menard Academy, and paid back the money they borrowed from him until the remaining debt was forgiven upon Col. Menard’s death.

The Academy was closed following the flood of 1844 after torrential rains forced the Mississippi River overflow its banks and forced the sisters to take shelter at the Menard home. At the same time, the community of Chicago was named as a diocese to oversee the majority of Illinois, and both Bishops William Quarter of Chicago and Rosati from St. Louis wanted the school as well as the nuns for their diocese. In the end, the school closed while the Visitadines moved to St. Louis to start a new school.

Some of the brick from the school was salvaged to build a rectory (or home) for the parish priest, although a huge hole was caused by the riverboat Indiana when the nuns enlisted the vessel in a rescue mission to retrieve sacred items and the boat ran into the building in an attempt to get near it. The Flood of 1844 was enough to have residents change the location of the county seat of Randolph from Kaskaskia to Chester.

The community’s population has dropped significantly since 1950 when there were 112 people living in Kaskaskia. In 1970, there were only 79 people recorded in the census, which dropped to 33 by 1980 and to its current total of nine in 2000.


Year opened:                  1833

Year closed due to flood: 1844


In 1836, the Visitadines taught the young ladies at the Academy classes in the following subjects: Webster’s Dictionary, Morray’s Grammar and Exercises, Worcester’s Geography & Atlas, Grimshaw’s History of the United States, England, etc. Pike’s Arithmetic, Polite Learning, Tooke’s Pantheon, Rhetoric, Chemistry, Philosophy, Astronomy, Roman, Greek, and Jewish Antiquities, and history. 


If you’ve got a knack for researching history and have more on the Academy of the Visitation or Menard Academy, then we’d like to hear from you. Our email address is ihsgdwebsite@comcast.net or you can click on this Guest Commentary link. Any information or photos are gladly welcomed. You can also use the USPS to contact us at:

Illinois High School Glory Days

6439 North Neva

Chicago, IL  60631

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