Ray Battersby was orphaned in 1932 and had no where to turn, so he landed on the doorstep of what was then named St. Mary's Training School in Des Plaines.
Like many of the orphaned boys there, he was taught a trade. His was shoemaking and repair, and he stayed until 1943, when he left to fight in World War II. He returned there from the war, homeless and in a need of a job. He stayed two months, bought a shoe repair shop and literally landed on his feet. He went on to own Bridgeview-based Mid-town Petroleum Co., which was sold in 2010 to Reladyne with locations in Gurnee, Elk Grove Village and six other states.
On Saturday, Battersby, 88, of Park Ridge and about 250 others returned to what is now called Maryville Academy to celebrate its 130th anniversary. Cardinal Francis George led a Mass to celebrate the occasion as several current students and alumni carried in 130 daisies to represent each year and posters displaying various programs.
"We all learned a trade, some carpenters, some shoe repair like me, but we all left and did those jobs," Battersby said. "They also made sure the girls knew shorthand and typing so they could become secretaries."
In opening remarks, Cardinal George said Maryville "always kept adjusting and adapting." It had to because each generation changed as well.
In 1883, Archbishop Patrick A. Feehan established St. Mary's Training School for Boys, an 880-acre working farm in Des Plaines. St. Mary's was a place for the boys to live, learn a trade and get an education. It served as an orphanage to literally thousands of boys and girls.
Over the years, its mission evolved and the name changed to Maryville Academy. today's students often come from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and have dealt with physical, sexual or mental abuse, drugs, gangs.
Maryville served about 2,500 students last year, said Daniel Summins, development director.
"How many other places reach 130 years," Summins said, "So we wanted to continue to celebrate the work of Maryville."
Like Battersby, Mary O'Toole arrived at St. Mary's in 1932. She learned how to be a secretary and did that her entire career, retiring from Counseling Center in Des Plaines. She met her husband, John, while they both were at St. Mary's. He died in 2000, she said.
"We were all like family here," said O'Toole, 89, of Park Ridge.
Similarly, Susan Regan met Jamie Cloutier while they were students at Maryville and they married in 1994. They now are each 39 and are raising two sons in Villa Park.
"The people here all gave us a great deal of support," said Susan Regan-Cloutier, a certified nursing assistant with Distinct Home Healthcare.
"They helped us to progress and to become better people," said Jamie Cloutier, now a network administrator with his own business.