Joliet St. Mary Academy

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Joliet St. Mary Providence School Building

Joliet St. Mary Academy
courtesy of

The History of Joliet St. Mary’s Academy & Providence High School


Joliet (population 129,519) is located in northeastern Illinois, about 35 miles southwest of Chicago. As a community that has grown in recent years to spill over from it location as the county seat of Will County into Kendall County to the west, Joliet’s population has grown by close to 20 percent since the 2000 census was taken.


A number of roads lead to Joliet, including Interstates 55 and 80 (which replaced the legendary Route 66), along with US Routes 6, 30, 45, 52, and Illinois Routes 7 & 53. The town’s history to the railroads is still prevalent today as the Elgin, Joliet, and Eastern (EJE) RR, along with the AT & SF RR still run their routes thru the city. Daily commuter service to Chicago is offered by Metra (short for Metropolitan Train Service) from the Regional Transportation Authority based in Chicago. The Des Plaines River also flows thru the heart of Joliet, and the community also served as a primary stop on the Illinois & Michigan Canal.


Joliet was settled in 1834 under the name Juliet as a honor to settler James B. Campbell's daughter, although some felt that it had something to do with William Shakespeare's novel "Romeo & Juliet" since there is a Romeoville about 10 miles north of Joliet. The name and spelling changed to its current form in 1845 to honor Louis Jolliet, a French explorer that visited the area with Father Jacques Marquette in 1673. The town was incorporated in 1852, and has earned many titles, including "All-American City," "City of Stone," and "Crossroads of Mid-America."

St. Mary’s Academy was opened with eight students on September 8, 1880 by the Sisters of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (IBVM) from Toronto, Canada in charge at the behest of the pastor of St. Patrick Church, Rev. Walter H. Power. A number of hardships and disappointments during that first school year may have discouraged the nuns, but they prevailed and moved the school to St. Mary’s Parish with the help of Chicago Archbishop James Feehan (Joliet was part of the Chicago diocese at the time).


The following school year, 70 girls were enrolled when classes began exactly one year to the date from its original open date. A new building was opened in 1883 as the school was chartered as St. Mary Academy by the state and 200 students were enrolled. The first students graduated in 1886 as eight girls received their diplomas.


The "Ladies of Loretto" (a nickname for the IBVM sisters) continued to educate the young ladies of the Joliet area, most of which were studying to take the state teaching exam. However, the order’s numbers dwindled in Joliet around the time during World War I in order to meet needs in other locations, so they decided to close the school in 1918. Of the 236 graduates from St. Mary’s, 153 received teaching certificates after graduation. 


The school building was turned over to the Sisters of Providence, who renamed the school Providence High School and continued to operate in the same location until 1959 when the building was declared unsafe.


Further information on St. Mary Academy and Providence High School was provided to us by our avid historian and good friend, Michael M.:


"When the original Providence High School building on Ottawa Street in downtown Joliet was condemned in 1959, it was evacuated immediately, even though the construction of the beautiful new building that would eventually become the co-educational Providence Catholic High School in New Lenox was still a long way off.  Father Aloysius Sinsky, the pastor of Saint Mary's Nativity Church near the corner of Ruby and Broadway Streets on the west side of Joliet, invited the Sisters of Providence temporarily to relocate their small high school to the unused classrooms in his parish grade school.  So for several years between the evacuation of the old (original) building and the relocation to the (present) new building, Providence High School bravely maintained its existence in borrowed space, using the four unused classrooms on the first floor and the balcony in the school gymansium at St. Mary's Nativity Grade School.  
Providence had only about five teachers at that time, and it is my recollection that the faculty membership maintained a certain stability during those years.  Faculty members during those "guest" years at St. Mary's Nativity included Sister Marie Loretta (Principal); and Sister Remigia, Sister Joseph Eleanore, and Miss Kuban.  This must have been a particularly challenging assignment for the Sisters assigned to the school.  First of all, it must have been hard for them to feel completely at home in their borrowed surroundings, since St. Mary's Nativity Grade School was not one of their own schools; it was run by a different Order of nuns, the Sisters of St. Francis of Christ the King (whom I recall treated them with great kindness, as you would expect).  Secondly, they didn't live near their temporary campus.  Rather, they lived in their convent near downtown Joliet in conjunction with the Sisters of their own Order who ran the grade school at St. Mary Carmelite Parish.  (In an unusual set of circumstances for that era, St. Mary Carmelite School and Convent were at a distant location from the parish Church, which was only one block away from the old Providence High School in downtown Joliet.)
When the new Providence High School was opened in 1962, it no longer operated as an academy of the Sisters of Providence.  Rather, it was a co-institutional (not co-educational, as it would later become) diocesan high school, which the Sisters of Providence continued to help staff for several more years, but which was run for the diocese under the administration of the Christian Brothers."
Brother David N. Kuebler, FSC, adds the following information: 
"The first Christian Brother principal of the new Providence H.S. in New Lenox, IL, was Brother Jeremiah Edmund Burke, FSC.  The Assistant Principal in charge of discipline was Brother Kieran Daniel McMullen who later became Principal after Brother Edmund was transferred to another school (in the late 1960s).  Brother Daniel, my religion teacher, became quite well known (and well liked) by going on television with his famous “SOS” proposal: “Save Our School.”  Providence was slated to be closed by the diocese in 1968, but, with Brother Daniel’s charisma and charm, the school remained open.

The brothers so impressed me that, in 1968, I joined the order to become one of them!"

Providence High School later built a new location six miles east of Joliet in New Lenox and still retains the Providence name as it is known as Providence Catholic High School.       

Year opened:              1880
Year closed:               1918
Now known as:            Providence Catholic High School
We would like to thank Jamie O'Brien at Providence Catholic High School in New Lenox for some of the information we have posted on this page along with granting us the permission to use the photo of the school building you see above. You can visit their website at
Another great source of information comes from the dissertation "The History of Catholic Secondary Education in the Archdiocese of Chicago" by Sr. Mary Innocenta Montay, written in 1953. The book itself covered the histories of all secondary schools that were part of the archdiocese from 1833 to 1952, including St. Mary's Academy.
then please contact us! We are always looking for additional facts and memories about the school. Our address is or just click on this CONTACT US link. Another way is to send your information to us at:
Illinois High School Glory Days
6439 North Neva
Chicago, IL  60631