Manteno Our Lady Academy Catholic High School

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Manteno Our Lady Academy High School Building
Submitted by Sherree Benoit

Manteno Our Lady Academy High School
As Viewed on the Manteno Daily Journal Newspaper

The History of Our Lady Academy Catholic High School
Manteno (population 6,414) is located in the lower northeastern portion of Illinois.  Manteno sits in the north-central portion of Kankakee County. Interstate Highway 57 passes through the west side of town. Illinois Route 50 passes directly through the heart of town. Manteno is about 10 miles north of the town of Kankakee. The Illinois Central Railroad passes through Manteno. Lake Manteno is located on the city's north side.
A brief but informative history of the town of Manteno is found at the web address of Briefly, the town name stems from the name of a half-Indian maiden who was one of the early settlers of the area. The area was first settled in 1832 and was organized as a township in 1855.
The history of Our Lady Academy, a catholic high school for girls, was sent to us by our good friend Sherree Benoit. A newspaper article was written on September 30, 2007 in the Manteno Daily Journal by writer Phil Angelo, the paper's Senior Editor. The article covers the history of the former school and its importance to the area at the time it was open. A summary of that article is as follows:
Our Lady Academy was opened in 1907. It began as a grade school (1-8) which accepted local students and boarding students from the area. An all-girls high school was established in 1919. The school had over 200 students at its highest enrollment, many of whom were from the Chicago area. The school was established by the Sisters, Servants of the Holy Heart of Mary. 
The high school closed in 1956. The grade school remained open through 1964.  At that time it became the home of St. Joseph parochial school. As St. Joseph, the school closed for good in 1968. The buildings that were a part of the school were razed in the 1970's and early 1980's. Reasons for the school's closure were cited as rising costs, lowering enrollment, and a lack of nuns to teach.
The following information regarding the school building first known as Our Lady Academy was provided to us by Joe Murphy:
"I grew up directly across the street from “The Academy” as we called it when growing up.  The Manteno school district used the building as an elementary school (second and third grades) for a short period in the 70’s.  I was the last second grade class in the building (1973-74).  It was then used by St. Joseph’s Church for religious education classes on Sunday’s.  The main building was razed in 1980."
Our Lady Academy Catholic High School Quick Facts
Year grade school opened:     1907
Year all-girls HS opened:        1919
Year HS closed:                    1956
Year renamed St. Joseph:      1964
Year all classes ceased:        1968
Used as public grade school:  1968 - 1974
School buildings razed:           between 1974 and the early 1980s
Athletics:                              likely not offered as inter-scholastic program while utilized as a
                                            high school
Two of the activities mentioned in the newspaper article cited above include the high school students singing Christmas carols while walking through downtown Manteno and the annual "Passion Play," which was a play regarding the last days of Jesus Christ.
The article also explains that students could be visited by their parents on Sunday nights only during the school year.
*From Mary Buford Howard (Class of 1956):
"I was in the last high school graduating class of Our Lady Academy, as Mary Elizabeth Buford.  I graduated in June, 1956 and that was the year the high school closed.  There were seven class members.  I don't remember all the names, but a couple  I do.  They were Patricia Jones, and Glenda Merten.
The town of Manteno was known for the mental institution there, so I was surprised when my parents told me about the girls boarding high school.
My classmate, Patricia Jones, invited me to stay with her one week-end, but I had to have permission from my family to do so.  It was not until AFTER the week-end that my parents told me that Pat's mother had called Sister Sebastian to ask questions about me before she would give her permission for me to stay with them.  My family and Sister laughed about some of her questions, but I did stay with them.  A couple of the questions were "what kind of food did I eat?", "did I bathe/brush my teeth?". (just simple things like that).
Anyway, I do remember that is the place I started smoking cigarettes.  We use to sneak behind a covered statue of the Blessed Mother to do this, but the nuns knew what we were doing.  Sister Sebastian told me I would have to tell my mother or she would and knowing my Mother she did not want me to get punished; so that is what I did.  My parents were not happy about this, but both of them smoked; so they really could not say no.  Yes, I still smoke; even though I know it is a "killer", but it is also a very hard habit to break.  Of course I don't smoke as I did when I was younger, but I have NOT given it up completely.
I could go on and on about my four years in Manteno, but then I would have to write a book. It was very interesting to come across your article since I was just browsing on the computer."
**From Jeanne Williams Oehlerking (Class of 1961):
"I was in the grade school class of 1961 and a day student. I remember a room called 'Pink Heaven' and it was exclusively for the High School girls only. I guess it was their private space to visit with one another. The boys and girls playground and lunch rooms were separated. You were to stay in your assigned areas and don't even think about talking to the other gender. I know because I tried to talk to a boy when I was walking past the playground area. I was quickly told by one of the Nuns not to talk to the boy and for me to stay in the girls' assigned area. Wow, times have really changed now!
I always remember lining up for our morning march to our classrooms. There were colored square tiles on the floor. I think they were dark red, green, and black. There were several lines and you were assigned a color according to the line that you were in. That was your performance place in line. We marched to music and you better keep in step with the music or you were pulled out of line until you thought you could do better. This sounds like a very strict environment but we learned respect, discipline, and to have order in our lives that still matters today as adults. I am so blessed to have experienced this part of my past!"
To Submit Further Information On Our Lady Academy High School of Manteno:   
You can write to us via e-mail at You can also mail items to us at the following postal service address:
IHSGD Website
6439 N. Neva Ave.
Chicago, Il.  60631