Rantoul Donovan Memorial H.S.

Rantoul Donovan Memorial High School
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courtesy of St. Malachy’s Parish, Rantoul

                      The History of Rantoul Donovan Memorial High School

Rantoul (population 12,400) is located in east-central Illinois in Champaign County, about 15 miles north of Champaign-Urbana. Interstate 57 passes to the west of the city, while it also can be accessed by US Routes 45 & 136. The Illinois Central Railroad also passes thru Rantoul, and plays an important role in its history.

The community was given its name when Robert Rantoul, a partner of Massachusetts statesman Daniel Webster, was commissioned to draft a charter for a railroad to travel throughout the state of Illinois in 1850. Rantoul was persuasive in getting the bill passed by the Illinois General Assembly to incorporate the Illinois Central Railroad Company, which was the first land grant railroad of its kind in the United States passed on February 10, 1851.

Rantoul had its first Caucasian settler in 1848 when the first mayor of Urbana, Archa Campbell, built a cabin in a grove of trees about 12 miles east of the Middle Fork and 10 miles west of the Sangamon River in the area that was called Neipswah, which was an Indian name for “abundant in minks,” a/k/a Minks Grove. The movement for the railroads came two years later when Webster was approached by a group of eastern men decided to invest in a railroad, and that’s when Rantoul became involved. After the Illinois Central was completed from Chicago to West Urbana (now known as Champaign) in 1854, the name Rantoul was given to the rail station that served Minks Grove and later the village changed its name to match the train station in 1857.

It grew slowly from 184 in 1855 to 1280 within two years. Rantoul’s population was around 1700 until the early 1940’s when the community grew on account of the former Chanute Air Force Base, which opened in 1917. Airmen came and went as they were trained and went onto other bases to serve their country. From there, Rantoul grew to as much as 17,000 residents in the early 1990’s before the base was closed in 1993. The Air Force reassigned its personnel to other bases, which has had an effect on the local economy even to this day.

The history of education in Rantoul goes back to 1859 when the first school district was formed. Parochial education was first founded in 1914 when Catherine Donovan, a member of St. Malachy’s Church in Rantoul, deeded an 80-acre farm valued at $20,000 to the parish thru the Catholic Bishop of Peoria, the Right Reverend Edmund M. Dunne when she passed away in 1912. Ms. Donovan had been deprived of an education as a young girl, and hoped that her gift of land would give others the chance to receive it at no cost.

Rev. Patrick Durbin was the pastor of St. Malachy’s at the time, and got the ball rolling to purchase land for a Catholic school. When he left in 1912, Rev. W. J. Drummy stepped in and worked to make the school a reality, working tirelessly to ensure it would be debt-free and make it an institution that its parishoners could be proud of. A.F. Moratz of Bloomington was the architect of the school, while Wm. C.F. Kuhne of Rantoul was the contractor that built the three-story red brick edifice, dedicated by Bishop Dunne on September 2, 1914.

The building’s first floor consisted of an auditorium for seating of 300, club room, kitchen and laundry facilities, along with a boiler and fuel room. On the second floor, four classrooms with wardrobe rooms occupied the space, while the third floor had a chapel, music room, dining rooms, a dormitory for boarding students and living space for the sisters, and a community room.

Donovan Memorial School was ready for classes six days later and welcomed 120 students in grade and high school. The Dominican Sisters of Springfield, IL were in charge of the school, which was accredited by the University of Illinois as an approved school for Donovan graduates to attend once they finished their high school studies without the requirement of an college entrance exam. Students not only took college-preparatory courses, but were also encouraged to try their hand at music and commercial classes as three sisters taught all courses that offered credits towards graduation.

The first high school graduates from Donovan started their high school careers at the school as sophomores in 1914, with four of them receiving their diplomas in 1917, and it also started an alumni association that met annually in June. Class sizes at Donovan Memorial were small in size (from four to 12) while the grade school continued to grow in size, even with the transient nature of those students whose parents were stationed at Chanute Air Force Base.

A total of 108 students received their high school diplomas from Donovan Memorial High School before it was closed in 1928 due to cost of programs (such as physical education) that were required for continued accreditation by the University of Illinois, overcrowding at the grade school level (185 students) with a waiting list of more wanting to attend the school. Remaining high school students either attended Rantoul Township High School or schools in their hometowns to finish their high school educations.

Donovan Memorial remained a grade school only until 1962 when the name was changed to St. Malachy to match the name of the church when a new building was erected, and it still serves Rantoul as a grade school. The original Donovan Memorial building was torn down around the same time, but the Dominican Sisters still aid today in educating the Catholic community in Rantoul.

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Courtesy of St. Malachy’s Parish


Year opened:      1914

Year closed:       1928

School colors:    each graduating class chose its own

School song:      unknown


It is our understanding that during the school’s history, the lack of students prevented Donovan from fielding any athletic teams; however, they did have a newspaper and presented annual class plays. The students were serious in their studies with a number of them becoming teachers, secretaries, nurses, sisters, priests, civil servants, and railroad officials after graduation.

Below is the list of graduates from Donovan Memorial High School by class year:


Camilla Burke (Sr. Mary Agnes)

Cornelia Heimburger

Marguerite Huguet

Margaret Walsh


P.A. Connor

Bessie Corbett

Harriet New

Nora Gordon

Florence Sharp

Catherine Mooney

Spencer McCabe


Florence Burke

Connie Cain

Hilda Cassidy

Alice Deany

Raymond Deany

Margaret Quinlan

Theresa Walsh (Sr. M. Kathleen)


Clara Brown

Vera Cameron

Adelaide Donovan

Florence Irle

James McCabe

Eleanor Sheahan

Agnes Walsh

Madeline Warner


Joseph Bermingham

Mildred Brown

Florence Cleary

John Corbett

Raymond Jackson

Joseph Pilgrim

Michael McCabe

Loretta Walsh

Francis Warner


Mary Birch

Luen B. Bongartz

Ethel Burke

Marion Coady

Madeline Connor (Sr. Mary Rosalie)

Ruth Deany

Marie Fiedler (St. Judith)

Alta Head

Anne McNally

Mary McNally

Joseph Sheahan

Gertrude Walsh

Rantoul Donovan Class of 1922 (11 boys, 1 girl)
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Mildred Fiedler

Mary Glynn

Francis Huguet

Francis Jackson

Harry Kaler

Joe McCabe

Louis Warner

Donovan Class of 1923 (5 boys, 2 girls)
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John Bermingham

Genevieve Birch

Mike Corbett

John Donovan

Esther Emming

Catherine Head

Edna Head

Henry Maier

Margaret Mangan

Catherine McCabe

Donovan class of 1924
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Mary Bermingham

Helen Connor

Josephine Corbett

Mary Fitton

Alice Kirk

Vincent Joyce

Elizabeth Mangan

Vincent McCabe

Margaret McNamara

Cletus Pilgrim


Edward Bermingham

Margaret Bermingham

Ward Birch

Jane Conway

Edward Donaghue

Maleta Fiedler

Marcella Fiedler (Sr. Mary Joan)

Joseph Jackson

Katherine Kirk

Paul Maier

Lucille Scheurich

Francis Walsh

Gertrude Warner


Maurice Brown

Mary L. Conway

Alice Fitton

Jane Head

Mary Leonard

Thomas Walsh

Magdalene Yeagle


Bernice Bergschneider

Florence Bermingham

Mary C. Donaghue

Catherine Forrestal

Adele Kirk

Wayne Kirk

Viola C. Schultz

Charles H. Quinlan

Thomas H. Quinlan


goes to Carol Sadlek from the St. Malachy Parish Office in Rantoul. With her help, the information and photos on this page would not be possible to help us tell the story of Donovan Memorial High School.

If you have more information about Donovan Memorial High School, then we would like to hear from you. Please contact us by clicking here or send a letter via USPS to the following address:

Illinois High School Glory Days

6439 North Neva

Chicago, IL  60631

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