Then came missionary students. Maryknoll College opened here in 1949 on a rolling, wooded 128.5-acre campus housing 120 to 150 young men. At its height, the 450,000 sq. ft. complex served more than 500 Catholic seminary students. It operated for nearly 23 years until graduating its last class of 30 in 1971 and closing its doors in 1972. But the prominent edifice remained as a stately beacon to travelers approaching Glen Ellyn on Roosevelt Road.
Then came law students. In 1974 Lewis University acquired the 4-story, cupola-topped main building and 25 acres of land to give its new law school an imposing setting. By 1979 financial difficulties required a change of ownership, and in 1982 the College of Law was transferred to Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.
Then came dreams of retirement. Elder Care Services of Boston bought the property in 1981 and proposed a 750-unit retirement community complex to be called Brandon Woods, utilizing much of the existing structure. After several years of pre-marketing efforts and alternative nursing home proposals, the dreams evaporated, and Elder Care failed in 1986.
Then came Hollywood. The abandoned property attracted vandals and squatters. But it also caught the eye of film location scouts in 1985, who cast the landmark building as a hospital in the coming-of-age film Lucas. Other Glen Ellyn locations featured Glenbard West H.S. and Stadium, Lake Ellyn Park and Boathouse, and the Glen Theater, where the movie premiered in 1986. Lucas starred Corey Haim, Kerri Green, Charlie Sheen, Winona Ryder – and briefly, Maryknoll Seminary. See details.
Then came ghosts. Except for sporadic training of local area police dogs for building searches, the deteriorating complex sat empty once again. And some old ghost stories began circulating. Parapsychologist Hans Holtzer tells of "The Seminary Ghost" in his 1993 book, Haunted America. Among the reported sightings was that of a dead priest, who had once been in charge of the darkroom. At the time he appeared, there were unexplained temperature drops in the photographic chemicals. More sightings.
Then came homeowners. No fear of ghosts could stop residential development in the adjacent 90+ acres of rolling, forested terrain. A first group of 51 luxury town homes was built by the Christian Companies, beginning in 1978. Then came the first custom-built homes in the mid-1980s. A second group of 75 town homes followed to complete a unique and natural development along a river that included two lakes, a playground, winding streets, miles of walking paths and thick woods. Three separate homeowners associations serve the two town home complexes and neighborhood of 115 single-family homes.
Then came other development. Interstate 355 was opened in 1989, relieving Illinois 53 as the main north-south artery through DuPage County. A proposed widening of 53 was no longer necessary, thus preserving the western boundary of Maryknoll. In 1997 Health Track Sports and Wellness opened on 10.5 acres at the north end of the Maryknoll property, and additional medical offices opened in 2009. In 2000 the deserted seminary buildings were demolished, marking the end of an era, but not of a name.
Then came fun and games. Holes & Knolls, a 36-hole miniature golf course and clubhouse, opened in 2005 as centerpiece of the new Maryknoll Park. The golfers were back! Lighted platform tennis courts opened in 2006 and and expanded to four courts with a permanent waming shelter in 2011. The Glen Ellyn Park District had paid $5.3 million for the 25 acres and immediately began staging special events, such as a kite-flying festival, traveling circuses, and the Discovery Channel's Animal Planet Expo.
And more fun and games. Development was completed in 2007 on bocce ball courts, a splash pad, a playground with fort and sand diggers, new trails, a net climber, a zip line, and a picnic shelter with washrooms. Disk golf was added in 2010.
By Lee McFadden 9/11