In 1846, a small group of Mercy Sisters arrived in Chicago, led by Frances Warde, Catherine McAuley's closest friend. Within weeks they opened a "select school" that became St. Francis Xavier Academy for Females, the first school chartered in the city of Chicago.

The course of study covered primary, secondary and collegiate levels. The first building was located on Wabash Avenue between Madison and Monroe Streets. When the Chicago Fire in 1871 destroyed the original building, St. Francis Academy relocated to 29th and Wabash for a short time, then to a larger site at 49th and Cottage Grove in 1900. In the 1950's, the southwest side of Chicago needed a Catholic girls' school to serve a fast-growing population. In 1956 "the Academy" relocated once again. Mother McAuley Liberal Arts High School and St. Xavier College (which is now a university) opened in the fall of 1956 to serve secondary and post secondary women students respectively. McAuley opened with 523 students, 300 of which were first year students. McAuley has continued to expand. Today approximately 890 young women and 120 faculty and staff members form the McAuley community.

Mother McAuley is accredited by The North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement (NCA CASI) AdvancED, is recognized by the Illinois State Board of Education, and is proud to be a member of Mercy Education.