Few schools have a heritage as unique as that of Peoria Notre Dame, a result of the rich legacies of the Academy of Our Lady, Spalding Institute, and Bergan High School. Founded following the consolidation of these three schools, Peoria Notre Dame remains proudly rooted in long standing traditions while pursuing the latest educational and technological innovations.
As the Catholic community grew in the Peoria area during the 1860’s, so did the need for Catholic education. Father Abram Ryan, a key leader in the development of the Academy of Our Lady, made it possible for seven sisters from the order of St. Joseph of Carondelet to begin a school for young women in 1863. The school that they began eventually became our cherished Academy of Our Lady.
A Catholic high school for young men was founded in 1899, named Spalding Institute after Reverend Ben J. Spalding, the brother of Bishop John L. Spalding, founder of the Catholic Diocese of Peoria. Known as the “Fighting Irish,” Spalding Institute stood as an institution that posited a rich tradition of academics and athletics. Its religious strengths developed through the consecutive guidance of the Brothers of Mary, the Benedictine Fathers, and the Viatorian Fathers.
In 1964, a third Catholic high school was created to meet the changing educational needs of the growing population from the northern part of the city. This high school was named Bergan High School after Gerald T. Bergan, a Peoria native and Archbishop of Omaha. When Bergan High School was first established, the classes were not co-educational. In later years, the school was managed by the Christian Brothers, and some of the staff were Benedictine sisters.
Due to financial decisions, the Academy of Our Lady and Spalding Institute united under the same administrative governance and academic curriculum in 1973.
In 1988, the Academy of Our Lady/Spalding Institute and Bergan High School merged and became known as Peoria Notre Dame High School. The Bergan High School campus was utilized as the location for Peoria Notre Dame, where today one will find class pictures of students from all three predecessor schools hanging on the walls, see trophies and awards from earlier days, and see a crest that contains emblems that honor the united schools. On the crest, there is a fleur-de-lis, symbolizing the Academy of Our Lady, a shamrock, which symbolizes Spalding Institute, and a Celtic cross, which symbolizes Bergan High School. In addition to these three symbols, the Peoria Notre Dame insignia stands at its center because it is a school that has been built on the tradition of those before it.