Peoria Notre Dame High School is clearly a place where customs exist because of our unique history. There are few who can say that their school has a rich heritage that originated after three Catholic high schools were consolidated. This unparalleled combination makes Peoria Notre Dame both old and new. The old traditions that we still have today come from the Academy of Our Lady, Spalding Institute, and Bergan High School.
As the Catholic community grew in the Peoria area, back in the 1860’s when Peoria was a part of the Diocese of Chicago and under the direction of the Archbishop of St. Louis, so did the need for Catholic education. This was a time when our country was devastated from effects of the Civil War and disagreements on the extent of women’s education were debated. Father Abram Ryan, a key leader in the development of the Academy of Our Lady, made it possible for seven sisters from the St. Joseph of Carondelet order to begin a school for young women in 1863. The school that they began eventually became our cherished Academy of Our Lady.
In 1899, Spalding Institute was first established as a Catholic high school, and it was named after Reverend Ben J. Spalding, the brother of Bishop John L. Spalding, founder of the Catholic Diocese of Peoria and long respected leader of the Catholic community. 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.
Due to financial decisions, the Academy of Our Lady and Spalding Institute united under the same administrative governance and academic curriculum in 1973. 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 was made up of Benedictine sisters. The three Catholic schools functioned this way until 1988 when the Academy of Our Lady/Spalding 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 the merged schools. Students still attend classes today on this same campus. There you will find class pictures of students when the three schools still functioned separately hanging on the walls, you will see trophies and awards from earlier days, and you will see a crest that contains emblems that honor the united schools. On the crest, there is a fleur-de-lis symbol which symbolizes 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.