A Roman Catholic college preparatory high school for boys and girls, Joliet Catholic Academy traces roots back to 1869 as an institution proud of its heritage and tradition.
In 1869, the Joliet Franciscan sisters opened St. Francis Academy as an all-girls school serving the Joliet area. Nearly 50 years later, De La Salle High School for boys was founded by the Christian brothers. In 1933, the Carmelites of the Most Pure Order of the Heart of Mary assumed the leadership of De La Salle and changed the name to Joliet Catholic High School. These three high schools are the cornerstones of what is now JCA.
Joliet Catholic Academy was established as such on July 1, 1990.
Mother Alfred Moes, a well-known Franciscan sister for having laid the foundation for the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, founded St. Francis Academy in 1869 in a small stone convent on Broadway and Division streets. In 1882, SFA moved to a new building on Plainfield Avenue, and a new wing at Taylor Street was completed in 1915. Prior to this date, most students were boarders. The curriculum offered six specific courses of study, while English, mathematics, Latin and religion, of course, were the required subjects.
In 1923, a building on Wilcox and Taylor streets – which is now the University of St. Francis’ Tower Hall – opened. Sister Thomasine, OSF served as the first principal. During the 1923-1943 period, SFA ceased to have boarders. The first varsity basketball team was formed, tennis courts were opened, courses were added, and a drama club formed. Sister Borromeo, OSF was principal from 1944-1956, expanding curriculum that received national recognition. Increased enrollment meant plans for a new building.
St. Francis Academy moved to 1200 N. Larkin Avenue, the current site of JCA, in 1956. This allowed for the expansion of academic programs in science, math, language, religion and physical education. Sister Hilary Tures, OSF was named principal. Lay teachers and modern trends in education enriched the school. Modular scheduling, team teaching and four-year sequences in language, science, math and fine arts complemented religion, and advanced senior classes for college credit also were initiated, all occurring by 1966.
Under Sister Jane Marie Meara, OSF, principal from 1968-74, and Sister Martha Connor, OSF, principal from 1978-85, significant changes were made. The emergence of girls athletics, a retirement program for employees and the first co-ed classes being held were notable. SFA’s pom-pon program won four national championships from 1986-1990.
Meanwhile, following SFA being chartered, Cardinal Mundelein of Chicago directed the Christian Brothers to renovate the old parish hall of St. Patrick’s Church to open De La Salle. Prior to this time, there was no Catholic high school for boys living in Will County.
Beginning in 1918, 45 boys occupied the two classrooms on “The Hill” overlooking the City of Joliet. In 1922, Cardinal Mundelein attended the first De La Salle graduation. A new building on the hilltop overlooking Bluff Street was built in 1927. DLS won the national basketball championship that same year, but by 1933, the Depression hit.
The Carmelite order assumed ownership of De La Salle and, as a tribute to the people of Joliet, renamed the school as Joliet Catholic. In 1934, JCHS won the National Catholic Basketball Championship. By 1956, under Father Shane Tahney, O. Carm., the school expanded, with a new wing for students and a new priory built for the Carmelites. In 1958, the golf team became the first Catholic high school in Illinois to win a state title.
Father Niles Gillen, O. Carm., was appointed principal of JCHS in 1961. JCHS was one of the first high schools in the country to begin a shared-time industrial vocation program with its public school counterparts at Joliet Central. Father Bob Colaresi, O. Carm., was appointed principal in 1975. The school experienced great growth and notoriety, and under legendary Gordie Gillespie, won four state football titles in a row from 1975-78.
The President of the Congregation of the Third Order of St. Francis in Joliet and the Provincial of the Order of the Carmelites of the Province of the Most Pure Heart of Mary announced in 1990 the formation of Joliet Catholic Academy, with the new school opening in the summer of 1990 at the corner of Larkin and Ingalls avenues. JCA was born to carry Catholic, Christian, social and educational principles into the 21st century.
Sister Faith Szambelanczyk was named President/CEO, and during her 17 years, JCA was transformed. The campus grew from the completion of a state-of-the-art computer center and additional classrooms to the 25-acre mega-sports Field of Dreams complex and the Student Activity Center. Six more football state championships were won, a second baseball state championship was won, and the first girls state title in school history – with two more to follow – were earned by the volleyball program. Academic and athletic programs would excel side-by-side. Upon Sister Faith’s retirement, Jeff Budz was named the first lay person as Principal/CEO of JCA, effective on July 1, 2011.
The theme of Budz’s first year at JCA resonates today: We are in this – Together.