"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
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
students were not allowed to pick the fruit from
these trees. This was a rule. Students could,
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,
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
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.
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
"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
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,
[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
[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
[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
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
[June 1932-56 Boys and girls graduate from St.
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
"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
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
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
"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
"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
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
"There was a lot of tradition at the old Lincoln and
Magnolia Street School," says Ruth Laufenberg
'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
[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
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
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
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
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,
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
The Oblates agreed to come to St. Mary's, bringing
their own style of teaching and a strong sense of
[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
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
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
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.
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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
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
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
"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
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
"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
"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