The Parish Schools of St. Bernardine
With the founding of St. Bernardine Parish in San Bernardino (1862) and the assignment of a resident pastor, the idea for a Catholic school began to take shape. Contributions to a building fund began to be accepted in 1870, which finally resulted in the establishment of St. Catherine Convent School in 1880, near the intersection of 5th and E streets. It was named after its chief donor Mrs. Catherine Quinn. The Immaculate Heart of Mary community from Los Angeles staffed the school. In 1893, the school became an orphanage but still had many day students living close enough to commute. In 1918, it reverted to a boarding school for girls only.
By 1903, it was quite apparent that a larger parochial school was needed. With the support of Bishop Thomas Conaty (1903-1915) of the Diocese of Monterrey-Los Angeles and the new pastor at St. Bernardine’s, Rev. John Brady (1903-1918), a new elementary school opened in January 1907. The new school held 200 students and still carried the name of St. Catherine.
With the influx of people fleeing the Mexican revolution of 1910-1917, coupled with the wartime expansion (1916-1918), it was decided to open two new schools plus a new parish.
The next pastor at St. Bernardine, Rev. Nicholas Conneally (1918-1923), purchased a large surplus public school house on the west side of San Bernardino. In 1919, Our Lady of Guadalupe School opened with 240 students; followed by the founding of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in 1924. This was a deviation from establishing the parish first and then the school; it illustrated the dire need for more schools in the city.
In 1920, Fr. Conneally opened the new St. Bernardine School located between the St. Catherine School and the new rectory; it replaced the 1907 school. It had 13 classrooms and an auditorium that held 800 people. The same religious community staffed both St. Catherine and the new St. Bernardine School. In 1925, St. Catherine Convent School moved to Colton and was renamed Immaculate Heart Academy with boarding students only. The Academy closed in 1933 when parents could not afford the tuition during the depression. St. Bernardine School closed in 1962 as post-World War II expansion drew students away from the school.
Sacred Heart Academy, Redlands
Established in 1897, Sacred Heart Academy holds the honor and distinction of being the oldest operating Catholic school in the diocese. When Sacred Heart parish opened in 1895, the founding pastor, Msgr. Thomas Fitzgerald, wanted to begin a school as soon as possible. With the help of the Ursuline Sisters from Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, the school began with 12 students meeting in a corner of the church. The Diocese of Monterey-Los Angeles provided funds to build a small school on Eureka Street where the present school now stands.
By the fall of 1898, the school had grown to an enrollment of 40 students. Assisting the Ursuline Community were the Immaculate Heart of Mary Community from Los Angeles and two lay teachers. In 1908, with an enrollment of 85 students, the Sisters of Mercy from Los Angeles
arrived to staff the school. By this time, the original building had been enlarged to four classrooms and a second story was added in the fall of 1911.
In 1938, the Sisters of Mercy were succeeded by the Dominican Community from Springfield, Illinois. For a short time, a ninth and tenth grade were added. But after 1940, the school returned to grades one through eight. Under the direction of the Dominicans, the school kept pace with the growth of the parish, making a building program necessary. In the spring of 1948, construction began on four new classrooms, offices and a hall. Two more classrooms were added in 1951, and two more classrooms in 1956.
In 1992, the Dominican Sisters concluded their service at Sacred Heart Academy after 54 years of academic and spiritual leadership. The change brought the first lay principal to the school.
Sacred Heart Academy was the first school to celebrate a 100th Anniversary in the diocese.
St. Francis de Sales School, Riverside
In 1893, Riverside County was formed from San Bernardino and San Diego counties. St. Francis de Sales Mission (1886) became the first parish in the new county. Rev. John Hegarty, pastor at St. Francis de Sales, went to Houston, Texas to invite a teaching community of Dominicans to staff the new school. With an initial enrollment of 35 students, the school opened in September, 1918.
The three initial Dominican sisters were Sister Mary Agnes, Sister Mary Callista, and Sister Mary Dolorosa. Friends of the parish loaned the sisters a completely furnished two-story house. The upper story of the house served as a convent, and the rooms downstairs were the school.
In November of that first year, an influenza epidemic struck and the school was closed. When the quarantine was lifted, the neighbors served notice that they did not want the school in their area. So the sisters moved to a house on Mulberry Street, and the classes were held in the old brick church.
In 1919, a new church and four classrooms were built. The sisters moved from the house on Mulberry to a home on Lemon Street. Grades were added each year, and in 1925 the school had its first graduating class.
In 1921, a high school was begun on the same property. The all-girl high school merged with Norte Dame High School in 1972. The elementary school expanded into the available high school facility, and opened a preschool in 1976.
The first Catholic school in Riverside County will celebrate its 95th Anniversary in 2013.
St. George School, Ontario
The second oldest operating school in San Bernardino County is St. George School in Ontario. St. George began as a mission to Pomona in 1899, and became a full parish in 1905. Starting in 1917, the newly formed St. George Ladies Guild held fund raisers to build a new school.
In 1920, Bishop John Cantwell, from the Diocese of Monterey-Los Angeles dedicated the new school, located on the south side of “D” Street in Ontario.
The pastor, Rev. James Martin, contracted with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange to staff the school. The first principal was Sister Isabelle and along with three other St. Joseph sisters taught 66 students that first year. The first eighth grade class graduated five students in 1921.
Classes were held in that four room school house until 1947, when Bishop Charles Buddy from the Diocese of San Diego, broke ground for a new school on the north side of “D” Street.
Within four years, four additional classrooms and a basement with a kitchen were added to the facility. By 1950, enrollment at the school had reached 400 students.
Post World War II brought new growth to the parish and school. There were 40 eighth grade students graduating in 1953, and 48 students in eighth grade graduating in 1962. By the mid 1980’s, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange left the school permanently after many years of faithful service.
The oldest school in the West End of the Diocese, St. George will celebrate its 95th Anniversary in 2015.
Peter Bradley is Archivist in the Diocese of San Bernardino.