The History of LaSalle St. Patrick Academy for Boys
LaSalle (population: 9,796) is located in north central Illinois along the Illinois River. Interstates 39 & 80 meet near the community, and US Route 6 along with Illinois 351 are among the main roads that bring people to LaSalle.
The history of the area goes back to 1673 when Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet travelled upstream on the Illinois River, but it wasn’t until 1837 when the community was first platted. Incorporation took place in 1852 and LaSalle is known for its cement and mineral-based products.
Two men, Frederich W. Matthiessen and Edward C. Hegeler, formed a partnership and established the Matthiessen & Hegeler (aka M & H) Zinc Company in 1858. Both men would leave their mark in the community in notable fashion, donating money to worthy causes, having a park named after one of them (Matthiessen State Park), and the other left a mansion that is worldly-renowned for its style of architecture (Hegeler-Carus Mansion). One of Hegeler’s daughters married a man who would become prominent in employing a number of residents, the Carus Chemical Company.
Rene Robert Cavalier Sieur de La Salle was a contemporary of Jolliet and Marquette who explored for the French. LaSalle found that the Illinois River was navigable northward to the community, from which point there were spots where boats had to carried around rapids in order to make it the present-day site of Chicago. As a result, the Illinois and Michigan Canal was created and completed between 1836-1848 between a much smaller Chicago and LaSalle to help river traffic from Lake Michigan make its way to the Mississippi River and eventually to New Orleans.
As the canal was being built, a majority of the laborers came from Ireland and settled in LaSalle and the surrounding areas. Those men and their families would help form what is St. Patrick’s Church in 1838, which still exists today as the oldest continual operating Catholic parish in the state of Illinois.
As the community grew, so did the church and the need for education. A grade school was formed and an all-boys’ high school called St. Patrick Academy for Boys would open in 1861. The Christian Brothers opened a school in a large stone building near the boundary line that divided LaSalle and its neighbor, Peru, and started with 95 boys in class on August 1st of that year.
The enrollment increased to 164 total with 25 boarders in 1862, and nearly doubled 285 in 1863. There was a change in the direction of the school in 1873 when the Christian Brothers left due to a misunderstanding with the mission pastor of St. Patrick’s, and lay teachers assumed the classroom duties for the next four years.
The Brothers of the Holy Cross replaced the lay teachers in 1877 and stayed until 1882 when the Brothers of Mary from Dayton, OH took over. That order would remain in LaSalle until 1909 when the order left due to financial difficulties. St. Patrick then merged with St. Patrick’s Academy for Girls, to become St. Patrick’s (also known as St. Vincent’s) High School. It is also possible that some students from the Academy of St. Joseph from Peru also attended the new co-ed school when the religious order that ran St. Joseph left the school in the same year.
During the time that St. Patrick’s Academy for Boys was opened, a three-year commercial course and four-year academic school were offered. Students that graduated from there went on to college and became members of the clergy, doctors, lawyers, merchants, bankers, and other professions.
Today, St. Patrick’s Grade School remains open as part of Trinity Catholic Academy as does the church, but St. Bede Academy in nearby Peru fills the void for Catholic education at the high school level, as does Marquette High School in Ottawa.
INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT LASALLE ST. PATRICK ACADEMY:
Year opened: 1861
Year closed: 1909
Merged with: LaSalle St. Patrick Academy for Girls