Brother Teliow, three of his fellow religious and thirty boys from Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood descended on Knotts Farm, north of Des Plaines, in the spring of 1882. They moved into two farm buildings and began working 100 acres for crops and caring for recently purchased livestock – on the job training for thirty city boys.
While the brothers and the boys worked, Archbishop Feehan and his board of managers were busy drawing up plans for a training school for boys. In October of 1882 ground was broken. As the buildings took shape, more and more boys arrived. By the time of the official dedication of St. Mary’s Training School for Boys in July, 1883, there were 150 boys in residence. Over 3,000 people attended the dedication ceremonies.
In those early days the routine was simple – mornings were dedicated to school; afternoons were farm work, animal husbandry or shoe making. The boys prospered on the efforts of their own labor.
By 1892, there were 325 boys at St. Mary’s. These were true orphans in most cases and many were “assigned” to St. Mary’s by the courts. For each ward, the state provided $47 per year for “education and maintenance”. Brother Teliow and his fellow religious taught the boys, supervised the farm work and looked after their spiritual needs. In the late 1880s an additional 400 acres of farm land was purchased to provide more crops for the growing population.
In October of 1899, fire broke out in the chapel, possibly from an overturned candle. It wasn’t long until the entire facility was in flames. The only buildings sparred were the administration building and the Villa. Fortunately, no one was injured and all the livestock survived.
Archbishop Feehan’s dreams were in ashes. Just as he had when he first arrived, the Archbishop set about raising money for rebuilding. Each parish was assessed based upon its ability to contribute. New plans were drawn that could accommodate up to 1600 boys. The Plans included were a print shop, a dairy, shoe shop, and a greenhouse – all designed to prepare the boys for life beyond St. Mary’s.
Before the rebuilding was completed, Archbishop Feehan, in failing health, died on July12, 1902. His successor, the Most Reverend James Quigley, took up the project with a focused effort. The main building and the north wing dormitories were completed in 1906 and housed 690 boys. Change was in the air – a new St. Mary’s was taking shape.