|St. Xavier Academy Catholic School|
|Entryway to St. Xavier Academy|
|Still in use today at Ottawa Marquette HS|
The History of St. Xavier Academy of Ottawa
Ottawa (population 18,307) is located in central LaSalle County in north-central Illinois. Ottawa serves as the LaSalle County seat and was established in 1837. The city is rich in history, including being the site of the first Lincoln-Douglas debate in 1858 (see pictures below). It is also home of the locally famous Reddick Mansion, formerly owned by sheriff and state politician William Reddick. Two major waterways, the Illinois and Fox Rivers, join forces in the heart of the town. Two railroad lines, the CRI & P and the AT & SF, also intersect in town. Major roadways connecting Ottawa to Illinois in every direction include Interstate Highway 80, U.S. Route 6, and Illinois Routes 23 and 71.
Included in Ottawa’s rich history is its equally-rich educational opportunities.This is where St. Xavier Academy comes in. Known as St. Joseph’s from 1859 to 1900, the Academy was established in the year 1900 and was primarily a college preparatory school run by the Sisters of Mercy for teenage girls. The nuns were summoned to Ottawa in 1859 to teach at what was known as St. Joseph’s Hospital & Orphan Asylum. This title was a little misleading as it actually was never an orphanage. The “orphanage” part was added to show the truthlfulness of the Mercy side of the order during an 1867 charter to qualify for legal corporation status in the state of Illinois. The St. Xavier name comes from St. Xavier Convent in Chicago. This is where the Sisters of Mercy were based when the request came to send help to Ottawa.
The Sisters taught grade and high school courses to boys and girls from 1859-1900 when three local Catholic parishes opened their own grade schools. At this point, St. Xavier Academy became an exclusively all-girls’ high school. The Bishop of Peoria, Joseph Schlarman, saw a need during World War II to have a co-educational high school in Ottawa. In 1946, Bishop Joseph Schlarman received a Papal decree from Pope Pius XII to transform SXA into a co-ed facility. A new wing was added to the building which included six classrooms, a cafeteria, and a gym/theatre.
Additionally, there was a convent for the nuns in a home near the school. The nuns were eventually moved into the fourth and fifth floors of the school building after the co-educational transformation was completed. The school did survive a fire in 1898 which destroyed what was to be a part of an existing building (constructed in 1888), which also burned. The VERY original school building (built in 1874) was moved 4 or 5 blocks west of the school’s current location and is still used today as a private residence.
In 1946 the new co-educational institution was renamed Ottawa Catholic High School. Eventually a full, four-year contingent of co-ed students was established. The school was then renamed Marquette High School in 1949, in honor of Father Jacques Marquette, who arrived in the area in 1673.
Marquette High School is still going strong today. The original St. Xavier building, however, has not faired so well. The building in the photos on this page was torn down in 1991. The demolition took place after Marquette built a newer building just to the east of the SXA building. However, part of the entryway from the St. Xavier building was salvaged and serves in the same capacity with the new MHS building, as evidenced by the photo above, taken by MHS graduate Kev Varney in 2006.
Ottawa St. Xavier High School Quick Facts
Year school opened as St. Joseph’s: 1859
Year named SXA (girls only): 1900
Year SXA named Ottawa Catholic (co-ed): 1946
Year building razed: 1991
School nickname: none
School colors: each class chose their own
School Fight Song: none
Being an all-girls Catholic school before 1946 did not afford St. Xavier girls the opportunity to compete in inter-scholastic athletic competition. The school did have a Girls Athletic Association club, but that was the extent of their athletic endeavors. Private schools could not even join the IHSA until 1941, further inhibiting St. Xavier’s athletic growth.
**Four graduates of St. Xavier Academy were named to the St. Xavier/Ottawa Catholic/Marquette Alumni Hall of Fame. They include the following:
Sister Martina Schomas RSM
Class of 1918, taught at both SXA and Marquette, also a graduate of St. Xavier’s College.
Dorothy M. Crawford
Class of 1921, taught in Ottawa schools, graduate of Illinois State Normal University and University of Illinois.
Sister Marie Pillion RSM
Class of 1933, taught at Marquette High School, graduate of St. Xavier College, and Fordham University.
Class of 1928, Office Manager and Benefactor, graduate of Browns’ Business College.
The rumors have floated for years, and many have “swore” to this being a fact, but it seems the old building pictured was rumored to house ghosts of its storied past. Many ears have heard footsteps on the upper floors as well as busy noises in the cafeteria kitchen and hallways during meetings at night, only to find them empty upon investigation. One wonders if those lonely spirits have moved into the “new” building, even more lost now!!
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Illinois HS Glory Days
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|St. Xavier Academy Class of 1946|
|Credit: Ottawa Times archives|
ST. XAVIER CLASS OF 1946
(taken from the Winter 2006 edition of Footprints, the St. Xavier/Ottawa Catholic/Marquette alumni newsletter, which came from the April 28th, 1946 edition of the Ottawa Republican Times)
Members of St. Xavier’s Academy senior class who graduated last night, pictured in their caps and gowns above are: seated, bottom row (left to right)-Louise Hiedmann, Darlene Sherman, Jane Callahan, Marilyn Aussem, Rita Fox, Eileen Donahue, Charlene Fitzgerald; second row from bottom-Jean Lavender, Lauretta Schiffgens, Mary Poutre, Frances Fiorini, Loretta Stoudt, Arlene Stillwell, Anna Tuleck, Marcella Stoudt, Marie Skoflanc, Ivis Donahue; third row from bottom-Lois Fitzpatrick, Thelma Busteed, Colleen McGrath, Elaine Burke, Jean Devine; fourth row from bottom-Beverly Corrigan, Irene Corcoran, Dolores Curtin, Patricia Hossack, Phyllis Mayou, JoAnn Smith; fifth row from bottom-Jean O’Neil, Eileen Murphy, Marjorie Helfrich; sixth row-Betty Zwick, Juanita Batt, Joyce Street, Patricia Lane, Shirley McAlpine, Rita Geiger, Colleen Revell, and Alice Schiffgens.
At impressive rites last evening at St. Columba’s Catholic church at 7:30, 39 senior students of St. Xavier’s Academy received diplomas. The girls entered the church through the sanctuary doors at the altar attired in white caps and gowns. Dean John T. Shields, St. Columba’s pastor, addressed the graduates and presented diplomas. Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament, celebrated by Dean Shields, the Rev. Stephen Gould and the Rev. Fabian Revel, OSB, the latter of Peoria, closed the service. Visiting clergy included the Revs. John Loughlin of Marseilles, and JP Farrell, pastor of St. Patrick’s of Ottawa. The program of instruction for the class of the academy 1945-46, was highly concentrated and accelerated in order to permit extensive remodeling work to continue unimpeded,
Boys to be admitted
St. Xavier’s academy is adopting a co-educational program in 1946 with the plan sponsored by Bishop Schlarman. In the coming year only, freshmen boys will be admitted under the co-educational plan. More than half of the 102 freshmen registrations for the coming year are boys.