In 1850 Bishop Amadeus Rappe traveled to Boulogne, France to seek aid from his former colleagues for the Cleveland Diocese. He invited the Ursuline nuns to come to Cleveland to initiate efforts to provide education within the diocese. In August 1850, four sisters traveled to Cleveland and assumed residence in the Samuel Cowles House secured by the Bishop near East Fourth Street and Euclid Avenue. By September, a space was opened to board girls and provide a day school. During the ensuing years, the school expanded in enrollment and the nuns required more space to accommodate growth. The Ursulines began staffing parish day schools by 1853 and also ventured to Youngstown, Toledo, and Tiffin, Ohio, as the community grew in size. By 1874, Bishop Gilmour determined the conditions at the facility on Euclid could no long adequately serve the students, staff, and program. He sought property on the lakeshore in the village of Nottingham, just east of Collamer Village. Thirty-seven acres of property bounded by Euclid Creek to the east was owned by George Gilbert and was for sale. The Bishop originally sought the land as a site for a diocesan seminary but thought again to urge the nuns to consider the property. They toured the beautiful property, buried religious medals at the site and prayed for a favorable acquisition of the land. Mr. Gilbert met the offer tendered by the Sisters and completed the sale in June 1874. They named the grounds Villa Angela in honor of their foundress Saint Angela Merici. The Ursulines used the next three years to build a residence and a school for girls called St. Mary's Academy and began classes in September 1878 for boarding and day school enrollees.
At the urging of Cleveland’s bishop, the Ursulines opened a school for boys in 1886 on the grounds at Villa Angela. St. Joseph's Seminary grew in service to young boys in grades one to eight. In 1892 a new larger building was built to accommodate the boys at St. Joseph's; it remained in service until 1946 when a fire destroyed the facility. Interestingly, about six years later, the Marionists, a Catholic order of priests and brothers, would open Saint Joseph’s High School about a mile east of the Villa Angela property on the Lake Erie shore.
Meanwhile, St. Mary's remained a popular residence and day school for girls staffed and managed by the Ursulines. The property housed the schools, a convent for the nuns and open orchard property. In 1906 the Humphrey Company (owners of next door neighbor Euclid Beach) bought 11 acres of Villa Angela property. The real estate proved most profitable and provided ongoing financial support for the Ursuline educational efforts in the community. It is unclear from historical records when the school was renamed Villa Angela Academy which served girls as a high school until its merger in 1990 with St. Joseph High School. Villa Angela - St. Joseph High School serves coed classes on the lake shore at East 185th Street.
The original Villa Angela property is currently owned by the City of Cleveland and is the home of a branch of the Cleveland Public Library. The surrounding grounds make up part of the system of lakeshore parks on Cleveland’s east and west sides. Villa Angela Beach adjoins Euclid Beach Park and Wildwood Park to provide scenic overlooks, a fishing pier, a sandy beach and boat launch access to Lake Erie.