The History of Rockford St. James High School
Rockford (population: 155,138) is one of Illinois' core cities. Referred to as the
"Forest City of Illinois," it is located in extreme Northern Illinois. Interstates 39 and 90, as well as U.S. Routes
20 and 51 and Illinois Routes 2, 70 and 251 all take you to the third largest city in Illinois. Rockford was first settled
in 1834 by Germanicus Kent and Thatcher Blake, a pair of New England natives who had first come to Galena before settling
in the area that would become Rockford.
The name "Rockford" came about in 1837 when the community changed its name from Midway (being a mid-point
between Chicago and Galena) due to the rock bottom "ford" in the Rock River, which the Indians had used and called the area
"rock-ford"...hence the name change. Rockford was incorporated as a village in 1839 and chosen as the seat of Winnebago
County the same year.
Over time, a state wagon road passed thru Rockford between the two cities named above, as did
regular stage coach service from the Forest City to Chicago. The Chicago & Galena Railroad also passed thru Rockford,
and soon thereafter, Rockford became a hub of activity with rail service and eventually highways.
The first Catholic Church in the city came in 1853 as St. James was erected to serve the city. This
church also built a one-room school which opened in 1855 as the corner of North Longwood and Second Street, near
St. James High School was founded in 1886 as a parish school by Rev. James J. Flaherty.
Prior to his arrival in 1885, the parish grade school had been closed several years earlier. Father Flaherty made
reopening the school a top priority and was able to get things restarted within a year.
The Sisters of St. Dominic of Sinsinawa, WI were in charge of the all-girls' high school, which initially
met in the former rectory of St. James Parish. There were up to 25 students enrolled during the first year. We are unsure
if the school was either a day or boarding school, although it could have been possible that it was a combination
A new building was erected in 1891 and continued to educate the young ladies of the parish into the
20th Century. We are unclear as to when the high school closed, but we have found some information that the same
order of sisters were still in charge of the school during the 1911-12 school year, so it is possible that it closed then.
After that school year, a Catholic secondary education was offered at St. Thomas High School in Rockford for both boys and girls. St. James remains open as a parish today and serves as the home
of the Catholic Diocese of Rockford, which was formed in 1908 under the direction of Bishop Peter J. Muldoon, who would
have a girls' high school named for him after his death in 1927.