The First 137 Years

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

The First 138 Years

 

Portions below are from the St. Mary's 125th Anniversary

Commemorative Book The following is from a portion of the book written by Jim Shebl

 

 

"A Dream Come True"

 

That is what Valley Catholics called it, "a dream come true"—the opportunity for their children to have a Catholic education in Stockton, California. When the generous and determined founder of Stockton, Capt. Charles M. Weber and his wife Helen Murphy Weber, connected with the saintly and visionary priest, William Bernard O'Connor, the outcome was certain. Children from this bustling, international port city would have the privilege of attending school in a nurturing, academic, value-centered environment. Theirs would be a course to prepare them for the business of life.

 

The Webers strongly believed that every child should have an education, public or private. They supported that belief in word and deed. Charles and Helen contributed, at every turn, to virtually all that would make Stockton a fine city, a community of successful and cultured residents. As a convert to Catholicism and with an influential Irish-Catholic wife, Charles was especially nurturing of things Catholic.

 

The forward-thinking Joseph Sadoc Alemany, Archbishop of San Francisco, assigned Father O'Connor to Stockton in 1872 by design. They both preached by example. They both devoted their lives to putting the tenets of Catholicism into practice. Archbishop Alemany trusted that Father O'Connor would help the people of California's Great Central Valley build a faith community commensurate with their needs. He knew this unassuming priest would kindle a fire in the hearts of all whom he touched.

 

This work did not take long. From the first, Father O'Connor rode countless miles to bring the sacraments to the farmers and ranchers and those in the secluded communities in the Sierra foothills and along the San Joaquin River watershed. He helped them build their houses of worship and later, their schools. He understood the value of education. He knew the importance of the values upon which Catholic education is built. His passion was the dissemination of those values. The well being of generations depended upon it.

 

The upper story housed student boarders—a rather meager but sincere attempt to supplement the Sisters' income—and a "cloister" for the Sisters. Weber, a horticulturist by passion, selected, purchased and planted the trees and shrubs that distinguished the facility. It was a park, a haven for its faculty and students. Beautiful Palm trees framed the bank of the slough; it was more than an illusion. The Academy became a community unto itself. Its residents were family. And they behaved accordingly. Sister Magdalene tended the orange trees and
students were not allowed to pick the fruit from these trees. This was a rule. Students could, however,

eat the oranges that had fallen to the ground. Sister Agatha Tierney, clearly a student favorite, would occasionally go upstairs, open a window and shake one of the trees with a broom, knocking the fruit to the ground! A little secret shared by all. Another facet cut on the diamond of Catholic education in Stockton.

 

When classes began in August, seven Sisters were teaching ninety-five pupils, grades one through twelve. They taught, of course, the expected school subjects; but the curriculum was enriched with instruction in vocal and instrumental music, drawing, painting, French, "plain and fancy" sewing, and cooking.

 

Father O'Connor kept involved. He visited classes on Thursday afternoons, often offering a subject on which students were to write an essay for his critique. "It was almost like waiting for Gabriel's trumpet," wrote one student. On graduation day, Father O'Connor was again before the students with an offer—of advice, and then he presented diplomas and medals to the graduates like a proud father.

 

The boys took classes to the eighth grade at St. Mary's School until 1880, when a department for boys-called Weber Hall—was added to St. Agnes. This department relocated in 1884 when the Brothers of Mary from Dayton, Ohio took charge. [June 1884. First High School Graduation. St. Agnes Academy. Girls only.] The Brothers immediately offered a commercial course through the tenth grade. St. Mary's was now called St. Mary's College. In the late Eighties, Stockton led the nation in grain production. Its milling companies contracted across the world. There was growth, development, and new schools. Students with a

Catholic education became essential players in the economy. The commercial course was proving its worth.

 

Life at St. Agnes proved to be a real learning experience. Day Books (found in the basement of St. Agnes on San Joaquin and Park Streets) record the routine and the adventure.

 

On January 26, 1890, student boarders and the Sisters awoke to city bells ringing and whistles blowing. It was about four o'clock in the morning. The cacophony was a warning. Flooding, which had been imminent for days, was now a reality. The basement of St. Agnes was filling rapidly; to make matters worse, the sewer was backing up as well. Soon the water was at five feet.

 

Moveable articles were quickly relocated. Others were abandoned in place or left to float dangerously about. At first light, Father O'Connor made his way to the Academy. He celebrated Mass with students and Sisters huddled in hopeful prayer. Long tables, ladened with a kaleidoscope of cargo floated below, battling barrels of sugar, boxes, tins and such. The piano floated grudgingly, the story goes, its weight denying buoyancy until the last.

 

In the brilliant morning sun, the city showed its watery cloak, glistening teasingly. The flood had done its damage. Then the discovery. The worst possible thing had happened. Sister Winifred Denehy had lost her chickens! All of them. The mystery was: had they flown the coup, or had they fallen before the flood? A mystery unsolved to this day.

 

Recovery began immediately; all formality was set aside. Meals were primitive and sleeping arrangements unparalleled for the several days it took to restore some semblance of order, if not propriety. Sister Mary Liguori memorialized the occasion, "aside from the damage and inconveniences following such a surprise, the flood of '90 was a novel and most unique enjoyment." That's the spirit!

 

As Stockton grew, so too did the demands of commerce. Two railways, the Santa Fe and the Copperopolis, passed through the convent grounds on a right-of-way. Then came the streetcar line-virtually through the front garden. Shortly after Father O'Connor died in December 1911, the new pastor of St. Mary's, Father William E. McGough, determined St. Agnes Academy must move. Away from the intrusion-and the flooding, north to where the city was fast moving.

 

St. Agnes High School, 1914-1931

 

Father McGough selected as a site for the new school facility, the corner of San Joaquin and Park Streets. By September 1914, students began classes in what the Evening Mail described as being a very modern building, designed by the pastor himself, ' The building was faced with brick. The lower floor held the elementary school, an auditorium with a stage and a small cafeteria. The second floor held classrooms, a commercial room, a good-sized library, study hall, and science laboratory. As well, the Sisters had a plan for continued improvements. The evaluators from the University of California were very impressed and fully accredited the school, Four Sisters taught the high school students, four taught in grammar school and there was a music teacher, as the music department had developed to a point of distinction.

"Like Father O'Connor, Msgr. McGough was the guiding hand. Continually, he visited classrooms, conducted assemblies, administered tests, assigned essays and supervised the writing of the same. He also selected and directed drama productions and taught logic," recalls Sister M. Colette Standart, O,P,

 

[June 1915. First Graduation of St. Agnes High School, at Park and San Joaquin Streets. Girls only. "St. Agnes College," as it was then called, was a grammar and a high school for girls. In 1918, boys were admitted to St. Agnes for the high school course.]

 

If experiences like the flood became a facet on the diamond, so too did other experiences or adventures. The Sisters enjoyed telling stories on themselves, one of "stolen pleasures" was a particularly fond memory. Apparently, students would lock the music room doors and proceed to enjoy "many happy hours" of "classic dances lightly tripped to the entrancing strains of The Irish Washer Woman and The Wind that Shakes the Barley." Exercises were usually brought to an end by a peremptory knock on the music room door, scattering dancers and musicians.  It was in this basement room that the Sisters trained students in drama as well. Of course. The stage had been set!

 

1918 and 1919 were difficult years, not only for the school but also for the community; indeed, for the nation. The Sisters had to close St. Agnes for the month of October in the face of a most terrible influenza coursing the nation. In Stockton it took its toll. Faculty and students wore masks to class and when they visited the community.

 

At the time, many faculty and students were volunteering for the American Red Cross. Soldiers just home from "The Great War" of 1915-1918, needed help resettling in the community. Their lives had been fragmented by the horror of battle.

 

Stocktonians answered the call and St. Agnes' students were there to help. The flu made their work all the more difficult. In 1919, it returned and again the Sisters dismissed classes for a time. Hospitals over-filled. Patients found themselves in the hallways, on gurneys. It was a learning time for the students of St. Agnes and, by all reports, they took full advantage of it.

 

[June 1921. First Graduation including boys—commercial transfers from St.Mary's—from St. Agnes High School.]

 

Jack Tone attended St. Agnes in the late Twenties. He remembers liking his "studies and the Sisters very much...even though some of them were tough. But they had to be," he hastens to add. After a year and a half, the family moved to a ranch in the country. He had to transfer to Linden High. "I wanted to continue at St. Agnes but my father said I would have to walk to school; there was no practical way for anyone to take me. I liked the school a lot. I missed it. I missed playing baseball and basketball, too."

 

[1926-27. Year's Program/for support of parochial schools-Property of W. E. McGough (pastor of St. Mary's Parish) November-Theatre party

 

Three weeks in which to sell the tickets. Junior girls in charge of candy. $60.00 or 600 bags is the general estimate. Social Events Customary at St. Agnes. Freshman Reception. On or about the first Friday of October. Dancing allowed. Entertainment and refreshments. [

 

[Rules of St. Agnes High School

 

II. By a vote of the high school girls in 1923 any form of facial paint was banned from St. Agnes during school hours. Powder is permissible and a little paint may be used at parties or other socials outside of school.

The spirit of St. Agnes has ever been one of co-operation. Since the financial burden of maintaining such an institution is great, the students make an effort each year to help defray school expenses. The largest and most important means of income is the annual Theatre Night, sponsored by the Senior Class and under direct management of the Senior President. One Thousand Dollars is the goal for this undertaking.]

 

St. Mary's High School, 1927-1956

 

In 1927, the Brothers, with the considerable financial help of parishioners, built a new St. Mary's Boy's School on Lincoln and Magnolia Streets. The city was moving north. St. Agnes became a girl's school once again. The Sisters actually were disappointed to see the boys leave St. Agnes. While they "demand more attention in class than girls and exact greater energy from a teacher, they add liveliness and interest to a discussion and as a rule are more friendly," wrote one Sister in the Day Book. [This was the same year in which many former students and Sisters came together for Solemn High Mass, followed by an evening reception in celebration of the school's fiftieth anniversary.]

 

"There was one choice," says Sr. Colette Standart, O.P., then a student. "You could take the academic course or the commercial course. Period. Accreditation was very important; we were examined and evaluated by a professor from the University of California, Berkeley once a year. Our graduates were quite successful and our teachers were well prepared and professional. We were always accredited but it meant a great deal of work for us.

 

"The Sisters ran the school. There were no lay teachers. I had about 30 fellow students. We all got along very well. Many of us had been in grammar school together." Sister Colette went on to profess her vows and graduate from Dominican College. She earned a Master's Degree and finished course work towards her Doctor of Philosophy degree before her teaching career took her every moment. But that is the story of the faculty of St. Mary's, nee St. Agnes, High School.

 

With the Great Depression, it was exceedingly difficult to support two high schools, even with financial support from the Archbishop of San Francisco. In 1930, Father McGough proposed the consolidation of the two high schools as being essential to the survival of even one. The Brothers, who declined to teach high school girls as a matter of policy, left in 1931. The Dominican Sisters taught at the recombined school-called St. Mary's High School—in the newer facility on Lincoln Street.

 

[June 1930. First graduation, boys only, from St. Mary's High School. Girls continued to graduate from St. Agnes High School.]

 

In the Sisters' Day Book, Sister Mary Justin, O.P. wrote of parents expressing concern about this consolidation. Parents feared their boys might not be encouraged in sports. As if in response, in 1931 St. Mary's basketball team won the championship in the Catholic High School League of' Northern California. The next year the varsity team defeated all the Catholic High Schools they played on the West Coast.

 

[Chicago, March 24, 1934-(AP)-RAMS RALLY. WIN RIGHT TO PLAY FOR CHAMPIONSHIP. The Stockton Rams made the 2400 mile trip to Chicago by bus to give California its first representation in the 11-year‑ old big show of Catholic prep basketball—Mike Canlis and Julian Lyons gave the yelling crowd thrill after thrill with their long shots and rapid romps over the floor.... Patrick Heffernan and Canlis supplied the winning punch with a pair of field goals and a charity toss.]

 

Several years later, they were hack. In the semifinals for the championship of all the Catholic High Schools in the United States, they lost in the final ten minutes. With no substitutes, "the players failed from exhaustion, not from lack of spirit or skill" reported the Chicago Tribune. Sports, and championships, became traditional at St..Mary's High School.

 

[June 1932-56 Boys and girls graduate from St. Marys]

 

High School at Lincoln and Magnolia Streets.

 

From 1934 until 1968 Sr. M.Colette Standart taught history, Spanish, French and English. "I taught in Stockton, San Rafael, San Francisco, Vallejo and Monterey. I came to Stockton in the middle of 1934. It was a difficult time since the boys did not welcome the change from the Brothers of Mary to the Dominican Sisters. In time, I found myself making friends with the students and the rewards for teaching at St. Mary's were great. Many of' those students still keep in touch.

 

Christmas 2001, Sister Colette received a letter from a student she had not heard from for years. The student wrote:” I remember how you made me feel special at a time of my life when I needed it most. From all I've heard about you over the years, I know you haven't changed because you are loved. I never  hear Cervantes or Cyrano de Bergerac mentioned without thinking of you who recommended these books to me one' classroom day at St. Mary's.”

 

"During these years, the enrollment was very small. We were graduating an average of thirty to forty students each year. The faculty was still made up of Sisters and eventually a few laywomen. Without a gym, the volunteer coaches only went into action outside of school hours," recalls Sr. Colette.

 

Hired by Sister Colette, Camie Lagorio was the First Catholic lay teacher at St. Mary's. She taught the "commercial" course-business English, Accounting. the like. The students loved her-“She took a personal interest in all of us," recalls Kathy Salads '59.

 

"Although the administration determined the course design, teachers could influence the curriculum and certainly the classroom was theirs. I n those days, classroom discipline was our responsibility. Occasionally we would go to San Francisco for a meeting-usually about religion," says Sister Colette.

 

And yes, the students had a social life in the early days. Thr Sisters would chaperone. Sister Colette explains, "This meant we would parade up and down in front of the building where the dance was being held to be sure no one came out. It was little hit rigid!"

 

Art Tener'44 and his four sisters attended St Mary's in the early Forties. "We only lived one block, from Stockton High on El Dorado Street, but we were pretty set on going to St. Mary's. I think that because we had gone to St. Agnes, we expected certain things.

 

"At St. Mary's the Sisters taught us stuff that no one else knew. I remember being a student it Stockton College-which seas associated With the College of the Pacific. 1 was the only one in the class who knew what "laissez fain' meant and I can tell you who taught me that and so many other things. Sister Colette! The Dominican Sisters taught us well. They were all dedicated and nice people."

Art remembers his two years of' Latin and his two years of' Spanish. "We used to have assemblies: boys on one side, girls on the other. We'd sing songs in Latin from memory. And we sure knew how to spell! That was always a big deal with the Sisters.

 

So was the Palmer Method. That's the book we used for penmanship." Art earned enough points as a student one semester to earn a set of rosary beads."

 

"Tuition was $5 a month, I think. We got a little help from the school since there were so many of us. I used to work after school picking tomatoes when it was the season. I picked with German prisoners of war. The field was where Pacific Avenue crosses the Calaveras River. The Webers had a tomato field on the other side. We made good money. About $15 a day.

 

Mrs. Karl Kraus, a German Jew hired by Sister Colette, taught Latin, foreign languages    and       Comparative Literature. By all reports, she was an enthusiastic teacher, a good teacher. Years after she left St. Mary's her former students learned she had been imprisoned in a concentration camp.

 

"You build lasting relationships in a place like St. Mary's. I still go to the reunions. We had our 50th 'in Livermore at Wente Brothers Winery. I brought my yearbook. The first page was filled with lipstick kisses! Everyone got a kick out of seeing that. It was just something that happened in 1944."

 

Mary Tener Hall, Art's sister, graduated in 1945. She too had gone to St. Agnes. "I especially remember History and English and Latin. I liked them a lot. Latin turned out to be a big help. It was probably the best course I took because it is the basis of so much of our language and religious culture. "I played basketball on the girl's team and we all played a lot of table tennis at noon everyday". It was not until the 1960's that St.- Mary's introduced the Girl's Athletic Association and the organization of a marching band. The G.A.A. brought new interest and variety in girl's sports.

 

Enthusiasm and social activities helped the band to keep step with the programs of St. Mary's. The parents were especially helpful in this regard.

 

"I didn't much care for chemistry but it was required. Algebra and geometry were ok. Sister David Barry was the principal. She and Sister Colette, our homeroom teacher, were wonderful people.

"I graduated from the College of the Pacific and was one of five women in a class of 602 in the Air Force Officer's School. I was well prepared. I'm still taking courses," says Mary.

  

Lydia Whitson, another talent hired by Sister Colette, was the first non-Catholic to teach at St. Mary's. She taught sewing in the home economics course. Kathy Salady '59 remembers her as a "great teacher. Her classes were always full."

 

"When I was the only senior who wanted a third year Spanish class, Sister Vincent Ferrer Wheeler and Sister David Barry came up with the idea of independent study. As far as I am concerned, they invented the concept," Leonardini wrote in a brief history on file in the school archives.

 

St. Mary's High School, 1956‑

 

By 1955, the Catholic Community raised enough money to build a larger high school on twenty-five acres in north Stockton. Again, this is where the city was expanding, and the facility at Lincoln and Magnolia could no longer accommodate the growing numbers of students, from new Catholic elementary feeder schools. The property was too small to have room for another building. Enrollment had grown to 408 and there was a waiting list. The need for new facilities was apparent.

 

The new campus on El Dorado Street, which opened in 1956 with an enrollment of' 518 students, included four wings of classrooms, a library, cafeteria, chapel and three athletic fields. Four Franciscan Priests, ten Dominican Sisters, and seven lay teachers offered an academic and a commercial curriculum.

 

The announcement accompanying the opening of the new high school affirmed "the keystone of its philosophy to be a respect for the dignity and value of each individual." Father Xavier Harris, O.F.M., the first principal at this new site, declared "Opportunity" and "support" essential to St. Mary's "high spirit." Sister M. Colette Standart, O.P. served as the school's vice principal.

 

[St. Francis of Assisi was born in 1181. His youthful desire to become a Crusader transformed into Spiritual Knighthood. He had no intention of founding an Order but so many were eager to join him in his literal living of the Gospel and his joyful renunciation as the spouse of Lady Poverty that he sought Papal approval for his Order in 1209. The followers of Francis (O.F.M.) preached, assisted parish clergy, and sought to convert unbelievers. With time, they became prominent at the universities. From the days of St. Bonaventure, schoolwork became one of the special Apostolates of the Order.]

 

"There was a lot of tradition at the old Lincoln and Magnolia Street School," says Ruth Laufenberg Harrison

'57, now a professor of Nursing at William Patterson University. "And it continued on the new campus. I remember most of the students and most vividly the Sisters. I was in the college prep course. I'm certain my work at the University of San Francisco and later at New York University was much the better for my St. Mary's experience. I felt the Sisters appreciated my talents. I felt valued. I think it was Sister Esther McCarthy who taught Chemistry back then. She was down to earth, genuine-she just made me feel good. I think that is why I was able to accomplish what I was capable of accomplishing. I still maintain friendships from those days."

 

Mary Devincenzi taught Social Studies. "She influenced me enough so I became a teacher instead of an attorney," says Peter Morelli. "She knew her subject and she had a nice way about her. She communicated information, interest and enthusiasm enough to really reach the students." Mrs. Devincenzi later became Academic Dean, then counselor. She was with St. Mary's for more than 30 years.

 

[June 1957. Boys and Girls graduate from the new St. Mary’s on North El Dorado Street.]

 

By graduation Day, 1961 a gymnasium/ auditorium, a student chapel, a friary and a convent had been built. In that year, the Fathers and Mothers Clubs merged to concentrate their support in a more effective manner.

 

George Clark attended St. Mary's from 1958-1962. "I went to St. Mary's because we were Catholic and it was the next step. My sister went to St. Mary's before me, so I was familiar with the school. And, many of my classmates sent there. In spite of this, we all had the normal anxieties. Our first class was Latin. Now that was a new experience. Sister Mary Neil Mathias was our teacher. She was very good. She was young and energetic and loved Latin. She made it exciting to learn new things. We ended up wanting to learn new things.

"It was interesting. Some of the new kids were from public schools, some were from different ethnic groups, mostly Hispanic. We all shared the same values. I think that is why we were all at St. Mary's. Everyone fit right in. The faculty helped us adjust, that made a difference. I still remember Mr. Earl Curren, Sophomore English; Sister Grace Patterson, Geometry; Sister Pauline Tuohy, Government. Her class focused on politics. It was the time of Kennedy and Nixon. My first real election. I felt I had a stake in it. She made it count. That was a memorable year for all of us. She made it like we were in class when we were off campus. Suddenly, we were made aware of so much that was going on, and the implications these events had on our lives.

 

Nancy Santos taught Physical Education and coached the girls' volleyball, softball, tennis and basketball teams. "She got everybody involved," says Karen Gherardi '71. "For more than 25 years she taught students how to have fun, how to enjoy themselves. She favored the underdog. What she did for her students' self-esteem was incredible. She had an attitude that was contagious. She had no children, but she cared for her students as if they were her children."

 

"The year was also memorable because Bing Crosby was in town. He was making a movie at the University of the Pacific. One of the co-stars was the popular singer Fabian. Evidently he went to Catholic schools, so when he was invited, he came to St. Mary's for a visit. The girls went nuts. It was great to see.

 

"I was seventeen when I went off to college. I had confidence in my academic preparation. Playing sports in high school helped also. I learned teamwork. I learned that you could get knocked on your backside, pick yourself up and move on. I learned to accept responsibility as a member of a team. This kind of awareness helps you fit in wherever you are, I think.

 

"I found St. Mary's to be a place where you can get a great education if you want it. The people there care. There is discipline; there are rules. There are challenges, but the people there really care about you."

 

The Sixties were a critical time for St. Mary's. There were serious race issues in the community. Faculty and staff were keyed to recognize the signs and symptoms of unrest. They accepted responsibility for watching and diffusing the strain. St. Mary's went through the racial stress, as did the city of Stockton. They dealt with it peacefully. Faculty and staff worked with parents and students-not to ignore issues but to deal with them as family. Every school has shortcomings. St. Mary's has had shortcomings. It is a human institution; by definition, it is not perfect. The wonder of St. Mary's is in the way imperfection is addressed.

 

In 1963, one year after the Diocese of Stockton came into being, Msgr. James DeGroot, a Diocesan priest, accepted responsibility as Treasurer of St. Mary's. This coordination with the diocese relieved the principal of the high school—Father Emery Tang, O.F.M.—of one great responsibility, while formalizing the school's relationship with the newly established Diocese of Stockton (1962).

 

John Little came to St. Mary's in the late 1960's. He had finished Master's work in chemistry at The University of the Pacific and was ready to test his mettle. "At first it was a job. I didn't know a lot about St. Mary's. I just needed experience and .. some money. Before I knew it, I was involved.

 

"The students Were-and still are—mostly prepared for the tough work of a chemistry class.' We work with those who are not. The values are real at St. Mary's, Perhaps it is surprising that our curriculum is flexible. Even in Chemistry there is some flexibility. I teach Introductory Chemistry, Honors Chemistry, and Advanced Placement Chemistry. The latter is a college level course.

"I was an assistant football coach for 14 years,, I coached wrestling for three years; and, I coached, tennis for many, many years. As a matter of fact, we' won five championship% in those years," says Little.

 

Not a Catholic, Little found the environment at St. Mary's to be a novelty at first. "I didn't know; any of the Catholic prayers so I had 'volunteers' lead the pre-class prayer. Then the. students found out I knew the. 'Our Father' so they let me chime in at the end with 'Thou art the Power and the Kingdom and the` Glory,' et cetera. It became a; learning experience for all of us. But this is fairly typical of St. Mary's," he says. What Little points up is that there are many ways in which faculty bring life and the living of life into the classroom experience.

As do most of the faculty, Little maintains his skill set in teaching and in his discipline not to be disrupted with the change.

 

Msgr. DeGroot, also diocesan assistant superintendent of schools, worked with the concurrence of Msgr. James Cain, Superintendent of Schools and of Bishop Merlin J.Guilfoyle. In 1969, in response,to increasing tuition and lower enrollment from, ethnic and lower income families; he committed the entirety of the diocese's subsidy to St. Mary's for tuition assistance.

 

He said, "If St. Mary's cannot serve all the children of the diocese, I will close the school." He recognized the during the summer months. At first, he attended workshops, learning technique and the philosophy of learning. It was not long before he was teaching these workshops. Recognition by peers is important to self and to the school. In addition, it has other, perhaps more important, returns.

 

As a faculty member, Little has accepted a number of responsibilities that fall to the professional: class preparation; presentation; student "tutoring;" faculty and staff meetings; assemblies; workshops; late hours; grading exams and reports and projects; speaking with parents. All this, being a coach, and raising a family.

Concerns? A few, "but nothing really big. It all gets worked out," he says. "The big problem of course, is keeping qualified instructors on staff. It is getting increasingly expensive to get good teachers to come and to stay...especially in math and science. This is my major concern."

 

In 1968, the Franciscans left St. Mary's. They were short of priests and found it necessary to lessen their commitments. Bishop Guilfoyle appointed Msgr. James DeGroot Interim Principal of the High School. The extraordinary culture of the school was importance of equal opportunity and diversity...before these concepts were pro forma.

 

It took a while for those eligible for tuition assistance to understand the acceptability of such a program. Initially, many parents thought of tuition assistance as charity. They were uncomfortable with this concept. This was a significant moment in the school's history. The Diocese wanted to stabilize the situation so they would attract the teaching order they so very badly wanted.

 

The Diocese of Oakland had approached the, Oblates of St. Francis de Sales from Toledo, Ohio to come to Alameda to consolidate St. Joseph and Notre Dame High Schools. This was in 1968. Father John Foley, O.S.F.S. was negotiating the arrangement when Monsignor James Cain, then Superintendent of Schools for the Diocese of Stockton, became aware of the proposition. The timing was fortuitous. Msgr. Cain was in the market for a teaching order. He offered the Oblates a persuasive argument - the diversity of St. Mary's High School and their history of value-centered education.

 

The Oblates agreed to come to St. Mary's, bringing their own style of teaching and a strong sense of tradition.

[The Congregation of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales was founded in 1871 by the Venerable Mother Mary de Sales Chappius, Superior of the Visitation Convent in Troyes, France, and the Very Reverend Louis Brisson, a diocesan priest who was chaplain to the Visitation Convent.

 

Father Brisson and Mother Mary de Sales founded the Congregation for the purpose of providing education for boys of working class families and to help in parishes where there was a shortage of Priests. The Oblates first came to he United States in 1893.]

 

Studies have always been first at St. Mary's High School. Students behind in their studies are expected to bring up their grades before participating in extracurricular activities.

 

When Father Thomas O'Neill, O.S.F.S. became the first of the Oblate principals in 1970, he assured all listeners that the faculty would do all they could to make the students' stay at St. Man's "profitable educationally, athletically, socially and above all religiously" He made it clear that St. Man's would be an educational experience for all who would make the commitment. This philosophy became tradition. By the time Father John Fallon completed his tenure as principal in 1989, it had become the keystone of St. Mary's High School.

Enrollment steadily increased. What was the draw? Certainly, it was the commitment of the teachers. It was the outstanding record of the graduates, illustrious and less dramatically so. But more.

 

At St. Mary's High School, the student learned and appreciated respect for the dignity and value of each individual. This precept of Christianity permeated the academic and the religious course of study. It manifested in teaching, advising, monitoring and coaching. What other reason for the increasing enrollment of non-Catholics as well?

 

Regularly the administration and faculty review the curriculum making necessary' revisions to ensure compatibility with the University of California's stringent admission requirements and the requirements of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. For the 1969-70 school year, for example, the curriculum expanded to add German to the foreign language offerings. Other electives were added, including creative problem solving, world literature, the novelist as historian and a reading clinic.

 

This spectrum illustrates a real awareness of the best interests of the student. A directed study program encouraged small group study and traditional offerings in art, home economics and speech were strengthened as well. Change is only typical in a school like St. Mary's, which prides itself on challenging its students.

 

At the annual Bishop's Awards Ceremony, the school community honored graduating seniors Monte Guadagnolo '70, and Barbara Perino '70, as the boy and girl who best exemplified the qualities of a Christian gentleman and Christian lady. Guadagnolo was praised as "an extremely generous and very kind person who would go out of his way to help people." Perino, previously honored for citizenship and leadership, had been a student body vice president and homecoming queen. These students typify the student at St. Mary's and the award speaks to the importance the St. Mary's community places on the practice of values taught.
 

With the Seventies there came about a renewed emphasis on staff in-service. Faculty attended workshops on individualized instruction and innovative methodology. Innovation generated team teaching projects and instruction using resource centers and learning packets.

 

Despite higher tuition, closure of a feeder school and a nationwide decline in Catholic School attendance, enrollment at St. Mary's High jumped from 715 to 760 in September 1972. Joan Wainwright, the diocese's education coordinator at the time, reported to the Stockton Record, "Our efforts at quality education are beginning to be felt. Parents are beginning to realize that their children can do as well with us as in public schools."

 

In the spring of 1972, the Board of Regents was dissolved, to be succeeded by an Advisory Board ! made up of faculty, student, parent and non-parent  representatives. Subsequently, a foundation was formed for the specific purpose of developing resources to support the growing school. Over time, the Foundation assumed the advisory capacity as well.

 

By the late Seventies, students were in the computer center writing programs for the administration! Thinking outside the box ensured new courses, new approaches to teaching, enthusiasm and enhanced learning opportunities.

 

Administration and staff began a series of reviews that led to changes. The Religion program was revised; the Counseling department was reorganized; the curriculum was bolstered; greater articulation with feeder schools was initiated.

 

Cultures Mingle In Ethnic Day Spirit.... Students celebrated Ethnic Day by dressing in costumes portraying their varied national backgrounds, and singing Italian, Yugoslavian, German and Irish Songs. Those who contributed delicacies were later able to partake of a buffet lunch representing European, Oriental, Middle Eastern, Afro-American, Mexican and American Cultures...Students helped break a candy-filled pinata, then enthusiastically responded to the beautiful dances executed by the "Philippine Rolling Expos," and "La Danza Folklorica Mexicana de Stockton." Ethnic Day provided students of different national origins a chance to share their pride in costumes, culture and cuisine. (St. Mary's Cauldron)

 

Joan Wainwright, who became superintendent of schools in 1980 until she retired in 1988, recalls, "always being worried about money to provide just compensation for staff members. We set the salary for the elementary schools; St. Mary's, with our agreement, set their own. Our goal was to reach parity, 90% of the public school scale. We met that level for a while, but just could not hold it. We needed money for the physical plant and the diocesan subsidy was committed to tuition assistance. I'm afraid we lost some faculty because of low salaries. "Remember though," Wainwright continues, , "Catholic education, began with religious who had taken a vow of poverty Teaching meant sacrifice and dedication. This means values at work. Our faculty continues this sacrifice and dedication in order to teach. They do so because they are in an environment they wish to be in, one consistent with their own values. "God is allowed here. Nurturing is allowed. The recognition and practice of values is allowed. Such things are not allowed everywhere.

 

'We're very proud of our faculty. We are proud of the number of graduates who have gone on to college and graduate school and who have returned to us. Their sense of, St. Mary's history gives us strength. This is very important," says Wainwright. "Our people are on the same page and that is our greatest strength."

 

"A lot of us who went to Presentation went to. St. Mary's High School," says Bonnie Peartree '83. "It was a matter of course. I didn't even think about: it until I got there; then I was nervous. I felt so young and naive. Freshmen had to wear beanies; this singled us out all the more. But the older students made us feel welcome. I guess the beanies made us come together in a way. "I will never forget the homework. We had tons of it. I was overwhelmed. That feeling lasted all four years. The social events gave us something to look forward to after a tough week in the classroom. The dances were great. I felt so grownup all of a sudden. It was another new experience for me.

 

 "Feeling like a grownup was a good thing. The teachers didn't baby you. If you didn't do your homework, tough. It was up to you to decide if you were going to get all you could from your classes.

 

"My classmates were the best. It didn't take us long to mingle among the new kids and best of all, no one even noticed if someone was "different" or of another ethnic group. It was no big deal. St. Mary's culture reinforced this behavior.

 

"I remember Doc Martin Langan. I took him for Asian Studies. He made learning so much fun. I think the teachers really cared. They treated us as their own children in many ways. Mr. Scott Oechel actually made geometry fun. Is there a theme here?

 

I still remember what I learned in that class. I use it in my profession. Then there was Father Murty Fahy, O.S.F.S. 'Queenie,' he'd say, 'what's your opinion on this?' He had his own way of bringing you into the conversation: "We had off campus experiences as well. I was a lobbyist at a statewide event held at the University of the Pacific. There were Hundreds of students. We had to mingle and argue and establish our position. It was a great exercise, another great St. Mary's experience.

 

"I thought I wasn't prepared for the competition in college. I think it was having total independence that was so difficult. St. Mary has study groups and lots of support. We needed it. Fortunately, St. Mary's taught us discipline. That made a big difference. I was better prepared than I at first thought.

 

"We were all good kids at St. Mary's. We enjoyed going to school. The spirit was incredible. It is a great school for someone who wants a total education. There is structure and plenty of help with transitions. I have such great memories of high school."

 

Tori Verber Salazar also graduated from St. Mary's in 1983. "I transfered from public school to Annunciation. It was the greatest change in my life. The academics, the people; it all seemed so natural to me.. I knew I had moved into a very - positive atmosphere.

 

"Of course, when you go to a Catholic 'feeder' school, you know you are expected to go to St. Mary's. But we still held it in awe. It was known for its great academics and its sports programs. I stressed out over the admitting test

 

"From my first day at St. Mary's I knew the teachers cared about us. I had nothing but great teachers. Some seemed unreasonably hard but they cared and believed in what they were doing.- They were all truly dedicated.

"Because St. Mary's is a relatively small school and I was interested in such things, I played basketball, softball and tennis and ran track. I was also very active in student government.

 

"In my Junior or Senior year, I took an English course that I will never forget. We read the Great Books. Our teacher taught us how to read; how to admire and respect literature. I've been a compulsive reader ever since. We still talk about those books. It was the best learning experience for college I had.The big issue for us was the ending of the Cold War, nuclear disarmament, the military. We were always discussing world, national and local events in class. For one class, we had to read the paper every day. My parents were sure surprised when I gave them my opinion of redistricting! The faculty brought the world into the classroom.

 

"When I was invited by the Kiwanis Club to interview for Teenager of the Year,' I was prepared. The gentlemen conducting the interview were businessmen with a keen interest in the day's news. This is what we discussed in class. St. Mary's prepared me beautifully for the challenge to find true meaning in what we do.

 

"Spirituality is the best thing about St. Mary's. This foundation helps you find out who you are and what you are. We each had a community service project. I taught the newly arrived to Stockton children from Southeast Asia. I am hoping my children have the same experience as I did in high school."

 

Leadership skills can be learned and because there always seems to be a dearth of leaders, St. Mary's has accepted responsibility for teaching, these skills. This is one of the reasons St. Mary's has a strong student activities program. In this, students have an opportunity to organize and plan, to assume leadership roles, to gain recognition and identity, to experience self-governance, to recreate physically and emotionally, and to mature socially.

 

St. Mary's Graduates accept their civic responsibilities: former San Joaquin County Supervisor Douglas Wilhoit, Stockton Mayor Gary Podesto , Stockton Police Chief Edward Chavez (later Mayor of Stockton), for example. And they serve the greater good: Sister Patricia Simpson, O.P. is Prioress General of the Dominican Order of San Rafael, to name another of the many who attend to the needs of humankind.

 

Opportunities abound in clubs, athletics, publications, student government, service organizations, and academics. The idea, of course, is to educate the student in the Catholic values needed to transform society. Faculty challenge students to analyze the global reality as well as their own lifestyles. Students come to understand how they, as one person, can create a new humanity in justice and peace.

 

"Service was one of the hallmarks of discipleship for Jesus, and our Christian Involvement Program is a continuation of that service, and of the mission of all Christians to serve one another," says Father John Fallon, O.S.F.S., President of St. Mary's High School.

 

Father Fallon served as principal of St. Mary's from 1978 to 1989. His was the longest religious principalship. Peter Morelli '69 advanced from Dean of Boys to Principal after Father Fallon. "The accreditation of 1989 pointed up the increasingly complex role of the school administrator, something I had recognized.

 

“No longer could it be just one person's job." Utilizing his background in administrative studies garnered from the University of Notre Dame as a graduate student, Father Fallon effected a restructuring.

 

"It made sense to appoint Peter Morelli our first lay principal," says Father Fallon. He knew the school-he was a student here and the Dean of Boys for five years. He has the best interest of the community at heart, not just of St. Mary's. He is well known and respected. And, very importantly, he has embraced Salesian spirituality. His appointment was a natural.”

 

Peter Morelli graduated from St. Mary's High School in 1969. He graduated from St. Mary's College, Moraga and has done postgraduate work at The University of the Pacific and California State University Stanislaus. Morelli's tenure as principal is the longest of any principal in the history of the school.

Morelli returned to St. Mary's after teaching at Annunciation School and then at Linden High School for ten years. He came with a persevering vision. "St. Mary's was to excel academically, and St. Mary's was to extol its Catholicism," he says. As principal, he faces challenges' to this vision, which is very much shared. New facilities. An endowment. Equitable teacher's' salaries. Fickle enrollment.

 

"St. Mary's is for the community" he says. "...For the kids. To practice the tenets of our faith, in the school year 2011-2012, we provided students over $500,000 in scholarship assistance. If a student qualifies for enrollment and wants to be here, we will help that student. Now the challenge is to keep good staff."

 

"Four generations of Stocktonians have graduated from St. Mary's to serve in the areas of government, business, education, industry, medicine, and agriculture as well as in various areas of social and protective services," wrote Sister Emilie Schenone, O.P. in a letter to the Stockton Record (January 9, 1990)

 

St. Mary's welcomes the fifth generation of students. "It all began, once upon a time," 138 years ago. "It has been a dream come true," she wrote with deserved pride.

 

Brian Hand '05 is of this new generation. His story sustains the story of the St. Agnes/St. Mary's student. Brian attended Presentation and Annunciation grammar schools. This, and the fact that St. Mary's was a family tradition, put him in St. Mary's. He didn't mind, he was just apprehensive. "I was going from the top of the ladder in grammar school to being low man on the ladder in high school. I had a lot to learn. The campus is spread out and I knew the culture was going to be different."

 

The transition was smooth, however. Brian's concerns fell by the wayside. 'We say a prayer before each class-that's nice. And there is a lot of talk about moral values. Respecting the individual is really important." Brian says he was treated really well when he first came-even by the seniors. `They spent time with us telling us things we needed to know about adjusting and getting along."

 

And the faculty? 'They are great. They always answer your questions; they explain things really well. We can contact them at any time. They give us their e-mail addresses and voice mail numbers. One teacher even sets up a daily voice mail with specific homework instructions. We all get along pretty well. I know many of the kids and the teachers made ' certain we introduced ourselves to new students and then learned something about them.”

 

Opportunities for the practice of Faith visit the students' lives. That is the way it has always been at St. Mary's High School. It is tradition. It is the essence of their history. In January of 2002, for example, the St. Francis de Sales Club demonstrated to the 80 faculty members and 1,050 students assembled the use of American Sign Language. They taught them to sign the closing song of a Mass honoring St. Francis de Sales. Father Michael Depcik, one of four deaf priests in the United States, conducted the Mass in sign. He was a guest of the school.

Assisting in the effort were members of St. Mary's student campus ministry team. This is a group that plans retreats, takes part in the Liturgy, and plans special prayer services-like the one on September 14 for those who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2002.

 

The team works out of the Zeiter Ministry Center. Inspiring, it is. Ashlie Guthrie '03 came up with an idea to cover a wall in the recently remodeled Center. She suggested collecting crosses, all different, to show the diversity of the school and community. It was not long before an incredible variety of crosses and crucifixes adorned the wall. "Everybody is really excited about it and wants to be a part of it," says Ashlie. "It makes the room welcoming." They are more than symbols of a particular faith; they are symbols of the spirit carried by the students of St. Mary's.

 

This event, recorded in the city's newspaper by writer Howard Lachtman, is now a part of the historic fabric of our community. Call it cultural, educational, organizational, social or religious history-the story tells of people, in time, caring for one another. This is history, enriching those who read it.

 

St. Mary's is all about students. Brian may be a typical St. Mary's High School student. That does not mean he is a typical teenager. He is making the most of the considerable opportunities offered. He has joined Interact, an affiliate of the North Stockton Rotary Club. Their purpose is community service. He is also a member of the Ram Computer Club. Here he has designed and activated his own web page. Remember, he's a first semester freshman. Imagine Brian in three and a half years. Imagine his entire class in three and a half years. This is history in the making. This is St. Mary's High School. This is a dream come true.

 


St. Mary's High School
5648 N. El Dorado St.
Stockton, CA 95207