Unity – Truth – Love
The day at Our Lady of Grace Catholic School usually begins with students assembled for prayer in front of the “Oasis of Peace,” a mural on the outside of the school building picturing happy children amidst a green landscape crowned by a rainbow. The space includes the “peace bench” where students can sit and talk or retreat for a quiet time. To Principal Susan Anderson, the Oasis of Peace sums up, in concrete form, the school’s core values: “Unity-Truth-Love.”
OLG School, guided by the curriculum standards of Oakland Diocese and State of California, utilizes the latest technological tools. Schoolwork also includes the tactile, from hand written essays to art projects. The after-school program features CYO athletics, Chess and Homework clubs, and a weekly music and band program. Parents are actively involved in parish and community events, including OLG’s annual Fall Festival and Auction, Fox River Socks for Soldiers, and CV Outreach for Christmas.
But it is in creating a positive, inclusive, and supportive learning environment that the school lives out its core values. “Mahatma Gandhi said, ‘Be the change you want in the world,’” says Principal Anderson. “Every day our student body comes together to grow spiritually, socially, and academically. To be a lifelong learner requires focusing consistently on the tasks at hand and doing that in the way Jesus modeled for us.”
Educating the whole child—intellectually, morally, spiritually—has been the school’s mission over the course of its sixty-plus years—from a teaching staff composed entirely of nuns to lay professionals; from blackboards and chalk to computers and iPads. It is something of a miracle that these values have weathered the vagaries of time. But, upon reflection, it is an affirmation of the timelessness of the school’s core values. At OLG School, students are participants in affirming—and putting into action—the core values of Unity-Truth-Love.
The school as an institution has been tested, from larger economic downturns to a crisis that almost forced the school’s closure. But, as this history reveals, faith and perseverance has led the way. Like the planted seed, this is a story of how to nurture an institution through ever-changing seasons so that it blossoms and grows.
“Beautiful indeed and of great importance is the vocation of all those who aid parents in fulfilling their duties and who, as representatives of the human community, undertake the task of education in schools.”
— Declaration on Christian Education: Gravissimum Educationis, October 28, 1965.
On October 28, 1958, Cardinal Angelo Roncalli emerged from the conclave of Cardinals as new pope. Roncalli was in his late seventies when he took the name John and began what many assumed would be a “caretaker” papacy. But in January of 1959, Pope John Paul XXIII shocked the world with his call for the Second Vatican Council, the first major Vatican colloquium in nearly a century. His goal was aggiornamento, an updating of the church—he likened it to throwing open a window to let in fresh air. The future saint would not live to see the Council to its conclusion, but the caretaker pope changed the church and the world. The Council, with four sessions held in Rome from 1962 to 1965, is known for such landmark documents as Nostra Aetate (“In Our Time”), which reversed centuries of anti-Semitism, declaring “as foreign to the mind of Christ, any discrimination against men or harassment of them because of their race, color, condition of life, or religion.”
The Council also produced the Declaration on Christian Education: Gravissimum Educationis, proclaimed by His Holiness Pope Paul VI, on October 28, 1965. The document declared education a “universal right” and the means to be “in harmony…with other peoples in the fostering of true unity and peace on earth. For a true education aims at the formation of the human person in the pursuit of his ultimate end and of the good of the societies of which, as man, he is a member, and in whose obligations, as an adult, he will share. Therefore children and young people must be helped, with the aid of the latest advances in psychology and the art and science of teaching, to develop harmoniously their physical, moral and intellectual endowments.…”
Gravissimum Educationis declared Catholic schools vital in developing “intellectual faculties” and preparation for professional careers “but also to form the ability to judge rightly, to hand on the cultural legacy of previous generations, to foster a sense of values.…” This meant students of different backgrounds and abilities joining together in a “spirit of mutual understanding…whose work and progress must be shared together by families, teachers, associations of various types that foster cultural, civic, and religious life, as well as by civil society and the entire human community.” [Note: Declaration on Christian Education: Gravissimum Educationis, October 28, 1965, Section 1: The meaning of the Universal Right to an Education,” and “5: The Importance of Schools.]
At the conclusion of the historic Vatican colloquium, Our Lady of Grace Parish was into its ninth year of providing Catholic school education. Like the church itself, the decades ahead would see the parish school grow and evolve. Guiding OLG’s educational process was the mission of developing the whole person, academically prepared, grounded in the faith, and guided by moral bearings to be positive contributors to the world.
San Francisco Archbishop John Joseph Mitty officially created Our Lady of Grace Parish, in the unincorporated San Francisco East Bay town of Castro Valley, on September 19, 1947, with Rev. Joseph Donworth as pastor. It was a prescient move, given the postwar boom that transformed a rural valley of chicken ranches and apricot orchards into a thriving residential community. While an effort was underway to secure a permanent site, Sunday Mass was first offered in a temporary hall on Baker Road on September 28. [Note: Peter Thomas Conmy, A Parochial and institutional History of the Diocese of Oakland: 1962-1972 and two centuries of background (Mission Hills, California: Saint Francis Historical Society, 2000), p. 443.]
On December 17, 1947, the new parish ceremonially broke ground on three and a half acres on Anita Avenue off Williams Street (to be renamed Somerset Avenue). The Oakland Tribune reported the church groundbreaking was part of “a long-range program that includes construction of a parochial school….” The $60,000 Spanish style church hall and parish house was envisioned for completion, appropriately, by Easter and the first Mass at the new church was celebrated on Easter Sunday.
The church building, recalled as “a small farmland structure,” served a congregation of about 200 families. In 1951, Father Patrick J. Stack was “given the mission of putting Castro Valley together.” Stack was from Limerick, Ireland, and shortly after being ordained in Switzerland in 1928, was sent to San Francisco to be assistant pastor at St. Edwards Church and Sacred Heart Church, before moving to All Saints Church in Hayward, and serving as pastor at St. Joachim. Given limited or non-existent facilities at the Castro Valley parish, Pastor Stack had to conduct catechism classes in parishioner’s homes. [Note: “Castro Valley Church Sets groundbreaking Ceremony Sunday…,” Oakland Tribune, December 17, 1947, Hayward Area Historical Society, Research & Archives (HAHS).]
The school construction faced frustrating delays. The local Daily Review headline on September 24, 1953, reported: “No Progress on Plans for C.V. Catholic Church.” The problem was an open creek and drainage issues at the 19540 Anita Avenue site had “bogged down” with the Alameda County Planning Commission. The parish, pleading lack of funds, asked the Commission to waive requirements and allow a partial covered drainage ditch and a concrete lined open channel that would be covered at a later date.
Only five days later, the Review headline read, “Prospects Brighten.” The planning commission when “informed that the sponsors were willing to grant an easement to the flood control district approved the application.” The matter would go to the board of supervisors and, when approved, construction could begin. “The flood control district will have supervision of the open drainage channel which will be bordered by a six-foot high chain link fence for safety to school children,” the Review noted. [Note: “No Progress on Plans for C.V. Catholic Church,” Daily Review, September 24, 1953, HAHS; “Prospects Brighten for New CV Church,” Daily Review, September 29, 1953, HAHS.]
The $275,000 two-story school building and a convent at 19883 San Miguel rose together, each integral to the other. A priest newly returned to the Bay Area from Japan had worked with the Carmelite Sisters of Charity, and told Father Stack of the Order’s enviable reputation and work in schools, hospitals, and orphanages throughout Europe, Asia, and South America. On March 16, 1955, months ahead of the OLG school opening, a contingent of eight Carmelite Sisters and one Mother Superior were on their way from Madrid to staff the new school. In an era when ocean liners regularly carried travelers between Europe and America, it was newsworthy that nine nuns were traveling by air.
The Sisters Arrive
It was dawn when the plane landed at San Francisco International Airport and Mother Superior Maria Delores Blasco disembarked with her charges—Sisters Angeles Serra, Manuela Vencesla, Engracia Fernandez, Josefina Ordiain, Marie-Rosa Lopategin, Maria-Lonzina Olarte, Francisca Mota, and, “still a student,” Gloria Zamore. The group showed “little of the weariness exhibited by even the most experienced globe trotters after a 6000 mile flight…,” observed Daily Review reporter Don Carter, who followed the sisters through their first day in America.
“Everyone in America has been so kind to us,” Mother Superior Blasco reflected later that day. “The airline people would not even let us carry our hand baggage. It’s wonderful!”
The convent on San Miguel was completed and OLG parishioners had worked hard to prepare it for their arrival. The sisters were not prepared for the luxury of rugs and soft beds—“In Spain, where we were also teaching at a school, the cells were not like this,” Mother Superior told Don Carter. They had a lot to do before school opened that fall, including collecting books for the school library and meeting parishioners. They also planned to “brush up on their English,” Carter reported. There would be more Carmelite Sisters to come as the school ramped up. [Note: Don Carter, “Nine Carmelites Arrive To Teach In Castro Valley,” Daily Review, March 17, 1955, HAHS.]
The parish school opened in September of 1955 with 250 students at the elementary school, including 100 first graders, and 50 students each for second, third, and fourth grades. Four classrooms, representing grades five through eight, were vacant—a new class would be opened each year until, after four years, the school had its full complement of eight grades. Father Stack told the local paper that transfers of individual students, or complete classes, from public to a parochial school beyond grade four was not advisable: “The change is too marked.” In the meantime, openings in the first four grades would be filled from a waiting list.
The school administration was led by “teaching principal,” Mother Superior Dolores, assisted by Sister Josefina, Sister Francesca, Sister Angeles, and Sister Maria Rose, with lay teachers Genevieve Kavanaugh and Gertrude Keller. The school day, which began at 8:45 a.m. and ended at 3:05 p.m., followed the normal elementary school curriculum set by California’s Department of Education, while Father Stack hoped to add special courses, notably Spanish language classes. [Note: “New Parochial School Opens in Castro Valley,” Daily Review, September 13, 1955, HAHS.]
The school’s early years, led by the pastor from Ireland and the sisters from Madrid, had little of the inclusiveness and transparency that would characterize the school in the near future. Parishioner Bettylu Vaz recalls that when she sent some of her children to OLG school “there was no communication at all with the parents. We got a little bill for the monthly fee, but that was the entirety of our connection.”
But there was positive growth. OLG and other parishes had previously been part of the San Francisco diocese, but were now included in the Oakland diocese that was formed in 1962 and encompassed parishes in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties (and included Transfiguration, a new parish on the eastern side of Castro Valley). Continued growth at OLG included construction of a large hall in 1968 to meet youth religious education needs—it would later be named Stack Center, in honor of the parish’s pioneering pastor (whose canny eye for real estate facilitated the parish’s growth).
An era ended when Father Patrick Stack retired in 1972 (the following year he was appointed to the honorary rank of monsignor upon recommendation of Oakland Bishop Floyd Begin). Rev. Stack had been pastor for 21 years, and had fulfilled “the mission of putting Castro Valley together.” When he passed away in 1984, a parish of 200 families had grown to about 2,500 families.
Father Keene became pastor, Sister Mercedes was appointed principal, and a school board was established.
And so Our Lady of Grace Catholic School began.