Our History

Woodlands Academy’s origins date back to 1800, when St. Madeleine Sophie Barat founded the Society of the Sacred Heart in France.

Inspired by the belief that educating the whole child was fundamental to social reform, St. Madeleine Sophie dedicated her Society to girls’ education. She and her fellow Religious of the Sacred Heart (Religieuse du Sacré Coeur de Jésus, or RSCJs) established girls’ schools in France with the goal of forming Christian women whose lives and leadership would serve the common good.

Saint Rose Philippine Duchesne and four other French RSCJs brought the Society of the Sacred Heart to American shores in 1818. They founded the Society’s first American school on the Missouri prairie.

Other Sacred Heart schools were established in America, including the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Chicago, founded in 1858 by Reverend Mother Margaret Galway. The Convent quickly outgrew its home on Wabash Avenue, moving first to the corner of Rush Street and Illinois Avenue, and in 1860, to Taylor Street under the new name, “Academy of the Sacred Heart.”

In 1904, Chicago’s RSCJs moved the Academy to Lake Forest. The “Convent of the Sacred Heart” (as the school was once again named) occupied a beautiful new building on 41 acres of wooded property, and served both elementary and secondary students, all of whom were boarders. The secondary school’s advanced educational efforts led to the founding of Barat College of the Sacred Heart in 1918. Both Convent and Barat students attended classes in the large “Old Main” building.

In 1961, a new structure for the elementary and secondary school was built on a 18-acre portion of the Barat campus under the name we know today, “Woodlands Academy of the Sacred Heart.” Over the years, Woodlands evolved into a college preparatory day and boarding school for young women. In 1998, an addition was built to house conference areas, a clerestory gallery, and offices.

In 2010 Woodlands Academy completed a very successful capital campaign to build a new, state-of-the-art Science Center which earned a L.E.E.D. Silver Award.  Solar panels generate electricity.  A natural prairie and outdoor classroom create a peaceful area of quiet, study, and reflection.  In addition, many interior renovations enhanced the beauty of the school.  New driveways and parking areas make the approach to Woodlands welcoming and appealing.

Much to the surprise and delight of the Woodlands community, in August 2011 Woodlands learned that donors were purchasing the former Barat College campus and planned to donate the property - once Woodlands Academy when it was known as Convent of the Sacred Heart - to the school. This  donation was finalized on the birthday of Saint Madeleine Sophie on December 12, 2012.

In August 2012, the school dedicated a new Student Services Center including a Learning and Resource Center, a Student Activities Center, a College Counseling Center, a Dance Studio, a much-welcomed Infirmary, and a new Fitness Center.  

A History of Woodlands Academy provides historical context for understanding the urban immigrant and industrial environment in which Reverend Mother Galway and six other Religious of the Sacred Heart established Chicago’s first Sacred Heart school, and their subsequent move to Lake Forest. This history includes excerpts from an 1879 issue of the Chicago Tribune and an 1895 issue of The New World, among other primary sources.