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About Us | Mission & History
Josephinum's original building, 1890


new building groundbreaking, 1958

New building & old building, 1960'S

Students at new building, 1960's


Josephinum Academy of the Sacred Heart offers a world-class approach to academic excellence combined with holistic, moral, and spiritual development in a college-preparatory environment at an affordable price to all girls in the heart of Chicago.


In September of 1886, Mother Philomena Schmittdiel, superior of the North American Province of the Sisters of Christian Charity, buried a small statue of St. Joseph in an empty field across the street from St. Aloysius Church. This was the symbol of her intention to buy the property on Oakley Boulevard and build a school for girls that she would call St. Joseph’s Academy. When the building opened to students in September, 1890, a single Latin word, “Josephinum,” which roughly translates as “the house of Joseph,” was carved above the entrance.

The name was embraced, and the school was called “Josephinum Academy” until 1923 when Cardinal Mundelein made Josephinum a regional Catholic High School and renamed it "Josephinum High School." The name "Josephinum Academy" was readopted in 2000 with the introduction of a middle school, which has since been phased out. Meanwhile, generations of Josephinum students have passed down an affectionate nickname for the school: “The Jo.”

After the Religious of the Sacred Heart assumed the educational direction of Josephinum Academy, with the blessing of the Sisters of Christian Charity, the Network of Sacred Heart Schools promoted Josephinum to full membership on April 11, 2011. The strong partnership between the Sisters of Christian Charity and the Society of the Sacred Heart that harkens back to the orders’ founders, Pauline von Mallinckrodt and Saint Madeleine Sophie Barat, lives on through the orders’ collaboration at Josephinum.

For 130 years, Josephinum has maintained a commitment to educating and inspiring young women in the heart of Chicago, and the school exists today as the city’s longest-standing Catholic high school for girls.

The Foundations | 1884 - 1890

Josephinum originally formed part of a German Catholic “empire” built up by Fr. Aloysius Theile, an ambitious and energetic German-born priest. Fr. Thiele founded St. Aloysius parish on May 30, 1884 in a lightly settled district in the northwestern outskirts of the city. Fr. Thiele urged Mother Philomena to build her academy just east of St. Aloysius on Oakley Boulevard.

The Sisters of Christian Charity were founded in Paderborn, Germany by Pauline von Mallinckrodt in 1849. Mother Pauline was dedicated to the care and education of the poor, and particularly of the blind, but she soon expanded her Sisters’ work into education of the sighted as well.

An Elite German Academy | 1890 - 1923

Seventy-six girls enrolled sometime during the first school year of 1890-91. Exactly half were boarders and half were day students.

Few students stayed at Josephinum for more than a handful of years. Most girls were sent to the school by their upwardly mobile parents “to round out the little academic knowledge that was considered desirable for a young girl” before marriage. The academy was, in short, a finishing school.

Josephinum dropped the domestic course it offered around 1905. The school had already introduced a two-year commercial course in 1900 to train women for office work. Many of the students aimed to become teachers.

A Welcoming Regional High School | 1923 - 1984

In a push by Archbishop George William Mundelein to open up Catholic schools to the working class, Josephinum was persuaded to transform into a regional high school in 1923. It changed its name from Josephinum Academy to Josephinum High School and began to provide a decidedly practical education.

When the descendants of European immigrants joined the exodus to the suburbs after World War II, they left behind many Catholic schools which were faced with the choice to move to follow their constituency or to stay put. Josephinum chose to remain in the same location and construct a new school building. Rather than a decline, it faced burgeoning enrollment in the 1950s, and its finances were sound. The Jo broke ground to construct a new building in 1958, which opened its doors to students the next year. In 1963, Josephinum reached its peak in enrollment with approximately 975 students.

Grassroots Revival | 1984 - 1990

Enrollment dropped low enough by 1984 that the school fell into debt that exceeded $100,000. On November 30, 1984 the provincial council of the Sisters of Christian Charity voted to close the Josephinum the next June unless some financial solution could be found.

The announcement of the decision to close was met by students’ stunned silence and tears. Before the day was out, however, the seniors began to organize and the faculty joined in protesting the decision.

Many community members were especially upset because they felt the Jo was very important to the surrounding area. The neighboring public high schools both experienced drop-out rates of 60 to 70 percent, but Josephinum graduated nearly all its students.

The provincial council agreed to postpone the closing if the school could raise $500,000 by May 6. Faculty and staff threw themselves into a flurry of fundraising activities they called “Save Our School Campaign” or “SOS.” This involved phone-a-thons, Bingo nights, raffles, and car washes. These efforts fell short of their goal, but they raised enough to cover the operating deficit for the year. The provincial council voted to grant the school a reprieve from closing for the time being.

In order to place Josephinum on solid financial footing for the future, the Sisters of Christian Charity organized a board of directors in 1985 with 15 members to assume “governing, legal and financial responsibility for the school.” The board cut costs to the bone, froze faculty salaries at the previous year’s level and asked the co-principal to take a cut in pay.

After a difficult search, when the Sisters of Christian Charity could not find a nun within their own order to assume the position of principal, Bonnie Kearney, RSCJ, was asked and accepted the position.

Becoming a Sacred Heart School | 1990 - 2011

In 1990, the Religious of the Sacred Heart answered the call of the Board of Directors with the blessing of the Sisters of Christian Charity to assume the educational direction for Josephinum Academy. The school was revitalized under the leadership of three consecutive RSCJ principals and the strong support of Woodlands Academy and the rest of Sacred Heart community in Chicagoland. On November 25, 1996, Cardinal Bernardin approved a unique form of educational alliance, which allowed the Society of the Sacred Heart and the Sisters of Christian Charity to share in the administration of Josephinum. On April 11, 2011 the membership of the Network of Sacred Heart Schools voted unanimously to promote Josephinum Academy to full membership within the network.

The Society of the Sacred Heart was founded in France by Saint Madeleine Sophie Barat in 1800. The Society’s mission was to make known the love of God revealed in the Heart of Christ, and take part in the restoration of Christian life in France through the education of young women of the rich and the poor classes. Today the Society has developed to include more than 200 independent and state schools in over 40 countries.

The results of the Sacred Heart education and a dedicated Board of Directors at Josephinum are inspiring. Since 2007, 100 percent of Josephinum’s graduates have been accepted into college, most of them being the first generation in their families to attend.

Excerpts taken from Edward R. Kantowicz’ narrative, found in Josephinum’s Centennial book.

Letty Pizarro
Front Office Assistant
(773) 276-1261 x221

Josephinum Academy of the Sacred Heart

1501 North Oakley Boulevard
Chicago, Illinois 60622
(773) 276-1261
(773) 292-3963
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