Nauvoo (populaion 1,063) is located on Illinois Route 9 in upper-western Illinois. The town is located on the banks of the Mississippi River in far western Hancock County. Nauvoo is located about 35 miles west of Macomb. The town was platted in 1835 and originally named Commerce. In 1839 Joseph Smith and the Latter Day Saints moved into town and set off a population explosion. The town was renamed Nauvoo (which literally means “beautiful location”) and quickly spread its wings. By 1845-46 Nauvoo had an estimated population of 15 – 20 THOUSAND residents. This would have made Nauvoo Illinois’ largest city of that time and, in fact, one of the 20 largest cities in the United States. Events soon occurred which led to the steady decline over many years of Nauvoo’s population. Nauvoo is still quite a tourist attraction with many historic sites and places to visit. For an entertaining and informative look at Nauvoo go to www.nauvoo.net or www.visitnauvoo.org/. Not all of the early residents of Nauvoo were Mormon, and after their departure for Utah, the town of Nauvoo continued to flourish, although it was diminished in scope.
St. Mary’s Academy of Nauvoo
The Benedictine Sisters’ ministry in the Diocese of Peoria began in October 1874 when five Sisters from Chicago established a convent and a boarding school for young girls in Nauvoo. The presence of the Sisters was requested by the Bishop of Chicago, and was accepted by the new Bishop of Peoria, when the Diocese was established in 1877.
The school, named St. Mary’s Academy in 1879, served young ladies for its entire history. The original convent was replaced by the current three-story brick complex built in 1954.
The Academy closed its doors after 123 years following the final commencement ceremony in June 1997. In 2001 the Sisters of St. Benedict, after having built a new monastery in Rock Island, departed from Nauvoo. The remaining buildings were sold to the Mormon Church.
The Benedictine Sister’s Website, www.smmsisters.org contains the following information regarding the history of their academy at Nauvoo:
“The Benedictine Sisters first came to Nauvoo, Illinois, on October 15, 1874. Sister Ottilia Hoeveler and four companions, Sister Benedict Zimmerman, Sister Hildegarde Strattman, Sister Mary Agnes Wolf and Miss Lena Pahlman, came from St. Scholastica Convent in Chicago to start a school for young ladies.
“The first convent and school were established in a residence which had been built as a Mormon arsenal, later used by the Icarians as a machine shop, and then converted into a home. The school, called St. Scholastica Academy, was opened on November 2, 1874. Seven girls from Nauvoo and vicinity were enrolled.
“The Convent in Nauvoo became independent of the Chicago Community in 1879. The name of the school was changed to St. Mary’s Academy and the Sisters’ home was called St. Mary’s Convent. The original convent was expanded in 1892 and in 1897 a new school was added.
“In 1907, the boys’ school was built, opening under the name of Spalding Institute. In 1908, the community came upon hard times when they were victimized by a speculator and lost all of their property. The Sisters did not give up. Spalding was closed in 1920. For a few years the building was used by the United States Government as a vocational school, but in 1925 it was reopened as a boys’ school and renamed St. Edmund’s Hall. In 1939, the Sisters repossessed all of their property debt free. The boys’ school was closed in 1940 and St.Edmund’s was used as the convent. After occupancy by the Sisters, the name of the building was changed to Benet Hall. In the late 1950s the grade school section of St. Mary’s Academy was discontinued and the St. Mary’s student body included girls in grades 9 through 12.
“A new monastery was built in 1954, a new high school in 1957, an addition in 1962 and a dormitory in 1967. Later, Mary Hall, the old Academy building, and Benet Hall were razed… The Academy flourished until the late 1960s. Enrollment fluctuated after that time. Due to declining enrollment, the Sisters closed St. Mary’s Academy in June of 1997.”
St. Mary’s Academy Quick Facts
Year opened: 1874
Year closed: 1997
School colors: Blue & White
School nickname: the “Saints”
School team colors: Blue & White
School Fight Song: “The Bells of St. Mary’s”
The Illinois Theatre Festival is the largest, non-competetive high school theatre festival in the world. It was organized in 1976 by teachers from the Chicago suburbs. This festival is still going strong as they perform at the University of Illinois (Champaign-Urbana) and Illinois State University every other January. St. Marys participated in this festival in 1980, 1982 and from 1986 to its closure in 1997.
Girls from St. Mary’s Academy were well known for their participation in Track, Volleyball, and Basketball. There is no indication that the girls reach post season tournaments in the IHSA in any particular years. If you have any information regarding the participation of the girls of St. Mary’s Academy in sporting activities over the years, please contact us.
St. Mary’s was a special place for many young girls over the years. As alumna Tami Berger Lobdell states:
“I was a graduate of St. Mary’s Academy in 1988. Attending the school was one of the best periods of my life.”
**From Nicole Klaucens (Class of 1977):
“I am writing because I really would love to get my hands on any videos from the productions I was in or the CD that was handed out when we graduated. It had a video montage I believe. I am searching fo any footage of my days at St. Mary’s!”
**From Walter Parham:
“Our family moved from Pittsburgh, PA in 1936 to Keokuk, IA. My oldest sister Loraine attended school at St. Mary’s in 1937-38. My father would drive over to Nauvoo with the rest of the family on Sundays sometimes to visit but it was a difficult drive. The river road on the Illinois side was not paved and after hard rains it was sometimes impassable. One Sunday we got our Buick stuck in the mud and had to have a farmer with his team of horses come to pull us out. Now, it is a beautiful drive along that road.”
**From Antonette J. Altier (Student in 1997)
“I attended the academy the last year it was open, 1997. The boarding school changed my life.”
Searching for Information / Memories
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