The History of Mt. Sterling St. Mary High School
Mt. Sterling (population 2,070) is located in western Illinois about 30 miles east of Quincy. It is the county seat of Brown County and is situated in the center of the county as well. U.S. Route 24 is the main roadway through town. Illinois Route 99 and Route 107 also travel through Mt. Sterling. The West Creek flows by the north side of Mt. Sterling. Though railroads had a lot to do with the town’s early growth, it does not appear (www.mapquest.com) that Mt. Sterling has a railroad traveling through it today.
According to the Illinois Trails website (http://illinoistrails.org/brown/) this history of Mt. Sterling was found in a book titled the “Historic Encyclopedia of Illinois” (1901):
“MOUNT STERLING, a city, the county-seat of Brown County, midway between Quincy and Jacksonville, on the Wabash Railway. It is surrounded by a rich farming country, and has extensive deposits of clay and coal. It contains six churches and four schools (two large public, and two parochial). The town is lighted by electricity and has public, water-works. Wagons, brick, tile and earthenware are manufactured here, and three weekly newspapers are published.”
It was obvious to those of the early 1900s that Mt. Sterling was a fast-growing town. Two high schools were in place. The public high school, Mt. Sterling High School, was established in the late 1800s. We believe that St. Mary Catholic High School (also known as St. Mary’s Academy), was also established near the same time, in the late 1800s. St. Mary High School opened in 1908 and served Mt. Sterling and the surrounding area for over six decades. It was in 1969 that St. Mary High School was closed.
A more detailed history of St. Mary’s Academy High School in Mt. Sterling was offered to us by Carl Orr and Phil Shadid (Excerpts taken from the Quincy nespaper “The Herald Whig” from their edition of May 25, 1969, no by-line. Much of the Historical information came from three sources: retired teachers Florentine Cronin and Francis Langan, and James Ray.)
” A HISTORY OF MT. STERLING ST. MARY’S ACADEMY (HIGH SCHOOL)
St. Mary’s came into existence in 1864, when a one-room school, known as “The Little Red Brick” was built. One teacher taught all eight grades. In 1874, another room was built and a second teacher was employed. The Dominican Sisters of Springfield were invited to take charge of the school in 1883.
Instrumental in the construction of the present two-story brick building was Reverend William Hefferman, who was assigned to Mt. Sterling in 1907. Ground was broken on March 17, 1908. Two months later, the cornerstone was laid and during the summer, men of the parish donated their services to assist contractors. The academy was dedicated on September 20, 1908. In September of 1909 the first high school class was organized, with a 3-year course offered. That class graduated in 1912, the same year the school expanded to include a 4-year course. The first 4-year high school class graduated in 1916.
At the time of its closing as a high school, St. Mary’s had 54 students in grades 9-12, who took classes on the second floor. Grades K-8 occupied the first floor, with 155 students. (In 2007, grades pre-K to 8, had 70 students.) The peak high school enrollment was never more than 74 students.
The high school closed because the Dominican Sisters withdrew from teaching due to ever decreasing nuns in the Order. Continuing with lay teachers would have been impractical and financially prohibitive. And because St. Mary’s had shared time with Mt. Sterling’s Brown County High School students in science, driver education and home economics, the transition to the public school would prove less traumatic.
The 59th, and last, graduation took place on June 1, 1969. The class consisted of 6 boys and 10 girls: Ron Lenover, John Veith, Pay Boylen, Dave Hendricks, Dan Follis, Dan Salrin, Julie Veith, Jane Salrin, Rose Marie Salrin, Patty Cronin, Peggy Cronin, Linda Koch, Chris Cameron, Frances Henninger, Janet Busen, Jeanette Langan.
Nine Dominicans served as principals during the school’s lifetime: SISTERS Mary Sebastian, Vincent, Anaclete, Eulalia, VIctor, Norberta, Edna, Vincent de Paul, and Mary Mercita (the last principal of the high school).
We thank the school secretary of te St. Mary’s Grade School for additional information,—September 2007.”
Nice work Phil and Carl!!
St. Mary Catholic Grade School still serves Mt. Sterling as a K – 8th grade facility.
St. Mary High School Quick Facts
Year opened as one-room school for grades 1 – 8: 1864
Year current building constructed: 1908
Year opened as three-year high school: 1909
Year opened as four-year high school: 1912
Year high school portion closed: 1969
School team nickname: the “Eagles”
Team colors: Blue & Gold
School Fight Song: “Cheer, Cheer for Our SMA”
University of Notre Dame Fight Song Tune
Submitted by Phil Shadid
Cheer, cheer for our SMA,
Send the roaring cheers on high,
What though the odds be great or small,
While our loyal team is marching