The history of Marygrove does not begin with 1927 or the city of Detroit, but with 1845 and the town of Monroe. On November 10, 1845, three women formally began a religious congregation of Catholic nuns, today known as the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, or IHMs. The three women came to Monroe at the invitation of a young Belgian missionary priest, Father Louis Florent Gillet.
One of the women, Theresa Maxis, was named the first leader of the new community. A woman of color of Haitian origin, she had formerly served as president of the Oblate Sisters of Providence, a black community of Catholic women in Baltimore, Maryland. When she arrived in Monroe, she began almost immediately to develop a school for women.
On Christmas day a notice appeared in the Monroe Advocate announcing the opening of a “Young Ladies Academy” offering a course of study that included French and English grammar, arithmetic, mythology, bookkeeping, needlework, beadwork, tapestry, worsted flowers, and music. By January 15, 1846, St. Mary Academy welcomed its first students.
That beginning was followed by the opening of parochial schools throughout Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, but the Academy remained the center of innovation and progress in the IHM educational system.
Marygrove is the direct descendant of the original St. Mary Academy. By the beginning of the twentieth century, the Academy had begun to offer college-level courses and by 1905 the Sisters had built a separate St. Mary College. In 1910 the State of Michigan empowered the college to grant degrees, and in 1914, the State Department of Education authorized it to grant teaching certificates. Those original charters are still in effect at Marygrove today.