Streetwise: San Francisco Catholic Schools

by Frank Dunnigan
July 2018


Frank Dunnigan, WNP member and columnist. -

Long-gone are the days when nuns single-handedly ran classrooms with 50+ students and tuition was $6 per month/per family. Today, there are only a handful of nuns still serving as teachers or administrators. Many Catholic elementary schools in the central and eastern parts of San Francisco have closed or merged, while schools in the Richmond and Sunset that once housed 500-800+ students, now have enrollments that are half that. Annual tuition in most local K-8 Catholic schools is about $8,000 (often $20,000+ at the high school level), with up to 50% of students receiving sliding-scale discounts for multiple siblings/financial need. More than half the students are identified by their families as children of color.

There are 28 Catholic elementary schools operating in San Francisco today. Teachers (mostly lay women and men) have Bachelor’s Degrees, California teaching credentials, and many also possess Master’s Degrees. Schools accept Catholic and non-Catholic students, offer financial aid, and are open to all—traditional “parish boundaries” are no longer enforced. Most schools include classroom aides, counselors, learning specialists, tech staff, music teachers, religious coordinators, physical education instructors, plus science and computer labs. Many offer extended-care after-school programs for an additional fee, and all are co-ed except as noted.

  • Convent of the Sacred Heart: K-8 school for girls headquartered in the former Flood Mansion at 2222 Broadway, and part of Schools of the Sacred Heart, tracing its San Francisco origin to 1887.
  • De Marillac Academy: Opened in 2001 in the Tenderloin neighborhood adjacent to St. Boniface Church, the school provides tuition-free education to 119 students in Grades 4-8.
  • Ecole Notre Dame des Victoires: Founded in 1924 adjacent to its namesake church on Bush Street, the K-8 school serves 300 students with daily instruction in the French language.
  • Epiphany: Opened in 1938 and originally staffed by the Sisters of the Presentation, the school expanded quickly, and by 1948, had become one of many local Catholic elementary schools with two classes per grade level—and still maintains that distinction, with 400+ students in Grades K-8.
  • Father Sauer Academy: Opened at St. Ignatius College Prep in 2017 as a tuition-free middle school for high-achieving 6th Grade boys/girls from underserved communities, it is expanding to 90 students (Grades 6/7/8) by 2019.
  • Holy Name: Opened in the Sunset District in 1941 as a K-8 school with Sisters of Mercy and later, Canossian Sisters. Today it serves 315 students with a lay faculty. A preschool was added in 2012.
  • Mission Dolores Academy: Formed by the 2011 merger of Megan Furth Catholic Academy (itself formed by a 2003 consolidation of two Western Addition schools, Sacred Heart and St. Dominic), with Mission Dolores School to form the new Academy. According to the Academy’s website, “The school’s history stretches as far back as 1852, making it the longest standing Catholic school in San Francisco.”
  • Our Lady of the Visitacion: One of San Francisco’s newer parochial schools, Our Lady of the Visitacion opened in 1963 in a parish that traces its origin to 1907. Today, the K-8 school serves 267 students.
  • St. Anne of the Sunset: Established in 1920, the Pre-K-8 school offers traditional instruction, plus language classes in Cantonese and Mandarin. In 2017, it became the first local Catholic elementary school to complete required seismic/access retrofits.
  • Boys of the 6th grade class at St. Anne’s of the Sunset Catholic School posed on church steps., 1945 - Courtesy of Patrick F. Cunneen

  • St. Anthony-Immaculate Conception: Formed by the 2002 merger of two Mission District Catholic elementary schools.
  • St. Brendan: Opened in 1947 with 241 students and a staff of Dominican sisters, the school reached its peak enrollment in the 1950s with 438 students. Today, it serves 321 students with an all-lay faculty.
  • St. Brigid: Founded in 1888 and staffed by Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, then Sisters of Mercy of Dublin, Ireland (1970-1982). Today, the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception from Madrid, Spain serve with a lay faculty. Since the 1994 closing of St. Brigid Church, the Pre-K-8 school conducts religious services at St. Mary’s Cathedral.
  • St. Cecilia: Opened in 1930, and now San Francisco’s largest Catholic elementary school with two classes per grade level (today’s head count is 618 vs. 880 in the mid-1950s). There is a seismic/access upgrade program underway, and the school will be adding Transitional Kindergarten in Fall 2018.
  • St. Finn Barr: Established in 1962 and staffed by Irish Sisters of Mercy until 1997, and then by the Dominican Sisters of the Most Holy Rosary of the Philippines until 2003. Today, the school has a lay faculty serving 248 students in Grades K-8.
  • St. Gabriel: Founded in 1948, the school grew to the largest Catholic elementary school west of Chicago by the 1950s, with 3 classes of 50 students at each grade level, for a total enrollment of 1,200. Today, the school serves 500 students, with two classes at each grade level, Pre-K-8.
  • St. James: Long-time Mission District school opened in 1924 (with roots going back to the late 1800s), now serving about 200 students in Grades K-8.
  • St. John: Founded in 1917 in the Glen Park/Mission Terrace neighborhood, the school now serves 228 students in Grades K-8.
  • St. Monica: Operating since 1919 in the Richmond District, the school serves about 225 students today in Grades K-8. As part of a 2016 merger of St. Monica/St. Thomas the Apostle parishes, each school maintains a separate identity.
  • St. Paul: Established in 1916, St. Paul School was once the largest Catholic elementary school west of Chicago with 1,000 students—until the 1950s, when St. Gabriel in the Sunset District expanded to 1,200 students. As part of a 1994-98 seismic retrofit, St. Paul constructed a new facility, and has been operating there since 1999. The school currently serves 214 students in Grades K-8.
  • St. Peter: Operating in the Mission District since 1878, St. Peter School now serves 250+ students in a modern facility built circa 1960. The school has an active alumni association that provides significant financial assistance to families of students.
  • St. Philip: Opened in 1938, St. Philip school now serves 259 students in Grades Pre-K-8, a reflection of many families with children now living in Noe Valley. The school responded to parent requests and established a Pre-K program in 2005.
  • St. Stephen: Opened in 1952 shortly after the founding of the parish, the school began with 164 students in Grades 1-6. Today, it serves 306 students in Grades K-8, with a new wing completed in the year 2000. The school began offering after-school programs over 30 years ago.
  • St. Thomas More: Located adjacent to the Parkmerced community, the school opened in the 1950s as part of a new parish, and today serves 300 students in Grades Pre-K-8.
  • St. Thomas the Apostle: Richmond District school that currently serves 300 students in Grades PK-8. The school has offered language classes in Mandarin and Cantonese for 20 years, and like many local schools, is in the midst of a seismic/access retrofit program. As part of the 2016 merger of St. Monica and St. Thomas the Apostle parishes, each school maintains a separate identity.
  • St. Vincent dePaul: Opened in 1924 in the Marina/Cow Hollow/Pacific Heights neighborhood, the school expanded to a second building in the years after World War II, and today serves 265 students in Grades K-8.
  • Sts. Peter & Paul: Established in North Beach in 1925, the school, now serves 247 students in Grades K-8, and has been under the direction of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians since 1950. The school offers language lessons in both Spanish and Italian beginning in Kindergarten.
  • Star of the Sea: This long-time Richmond District school celebrated its Centennial in 2009, and was originally staffed by Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Today, the school’s lay faculty serves 235 students in Grades K-8, and a pre-school is now accepting enrollments.
  • Stuart Hall: Founded in 1956 as a male counterpart to girls-only Convent of the Sacred Heart, this K-8 school has 200 boys.

Twenty Catholic elementary schools have closed or merged because of declining enrollment numbers since the World War II era—nearly half of them in this millennium. The Diocese of Oakland has experienced similar challenges, closing five of their elementary schools in 2017.

  • All Hallows School (Bayview): Closed in the 1980s.
  • Convent of the Good Shepherd (Bayview): Founded in 1932 to serve girls involved with the justice system, the school’s focus changed in 2010 to that of a licensed recovery residence for adult women.
  • Corpus Christi (Excelsior): Closed in 2011.
  • Morning Star (Western Addition): Closed in the 1990s.
  • Most Holy Redeemer (Castro): Closed in the 1990s.
  • Sacred Heart (Western Addition): Merged with St. Dominic to become Megan Furth Catholic Academy in 2003, operating in the former St. Dominic School building at Pine & Steiner. In 2011, Megan Furth merged with Mission Dolores School to become Mission Dolores Academy, operating at 16th & Church Streets.
  • St. Agnes (Haight-Ashbury): Closed in 1996.
  • St. Boniface School (Tenderloin): Closed in the 1960s.
  • St. Charles (Mission): Closed in 2017.
  • St. Charles Borromeo School at 18th and Shotwell Streets., Apr 1974 - Judith Lynch (Courtesy of a Private Collectior)

  • St. Dominic (Western Addition): Merged with Sacred Heart in 2003.
  • St. Elizabeth (Portola): Closed in 2010.
  • St. Emydius (Ingleside): Closed in 2003.
  • St. James Boys’ (Mission): Merged with St. James Girls’-1970s.
  • St. Joan of Arc (Hunters Point): Closed in the 1950s.
  • St. Joseph (10th & Howard): Closed in the 1980s.
  • St. Mary (Chinatown): Closed in 2016.
  • St. Michael (Oceanview): Closed in the 1980s.
  • St. Patrick (South-of-Market): Closed circa World War II
  • St. Paul of the Shipwreck (Bayview): Closed in 2003.
  • St. Teresa (Potrero Hill): Closed in the 1980s.

As of today, there are 7 Catholic high schools operating in San Francisco:

  • Archbishop Riordan: Opened in 1949, the school is one of two boys-only Catholic high schools in San Francisco with 700 students. It initiated a boarding program in 2011 for students from overseas, and has recently begun offering a four-year honors engineering program.
  • Convent of the Sacred Heart: Part of the Schools of the Sacred Heart, Convent is one of three girls-only Catholic high schools in San Francisco, operating at the old Flood Mansion on Broadway with about 200 students.
  • ICA-Christo Rey Academy: Formerly Immaculate Conception, admission is now limited to girls from low-income households, with a 4-year work-study program.
  • Mercy: Founded in 1952, it remains one of three girls-only Catholic high schools. From 1956-1990, Mercy’s enrollment was about 800 girls—200 per grade level—but when Sacred Heart-Cathedral and St. Ignatius went co-ed (1987 and 1989 respectively), Catholic co-education became a new option. Mercy’s head count soon settled at 400 total—100 per grade level. This year’s senior class included 86 graduates and the incoming freshman class for Fall 2018 consists of 55 ninth-graders.
  • Sacred Heart Cathedral: Cathedral High School (girls) and Sacred Heart High School (boys) merged in 1987, and currently serves 1,315 students.
  • St. Ignatius: Founded in 1855 on Market Street, the school, co-ed since 1989, will celebrate 50 years in the Sunset District in 2019, and currently serves 1,485 students.
  • Stuart Hall: All-male Catholic high school opened in 2000 as counterpart to all-female Convent of the Sacred Heart, with an enrollment of 200 students.

The following Catholic high schools have closed since the World War II era:

  • Notre Dame de Namur (Dolores Street): Closed in 1981.
  • Notre Dame des Victoires (Bush Street): Closed in 1970.
  • Presentation (Turk Street): Closed in 1991.
  • St. Brigid (Van Ness Avenue): Closed in the 1950s.
  • Class photo, college of Notre Dame Postcard to Ms. Amy Fickett [Opposite side shows Edith, my oldest daughter, Harriet La C.], Sep 6, 1910 - (Courtesy of a Private Collector)

  • St. Charles Commercial: Closed pre-WWII.
  • St. James (Mission District): Closed in 1949 when its successor school, Archbishop Riordan High School, opened.
  • St. John Ursuline (Mission Street): Closed in 1990.
  • St. Paul (Church Street): Closed in 1994.
  • St. Peter Girls’ (Mission District): Closed in 1966.
  • St. Peter Boys’ (Mission District): Closed after WWII.
  • St. Rose (Pine Street): Closed in 1990.
  • St. Vincent (Geary & Gough): Closed in the 1960s and re-emerged as Cathedral High, which then merged with nearby Sacred Heart in 1987 to form Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep.
  • Star of the Sea (Ninth Avenue): Closed in 1985.

An ongoing decline in San Francisco’s population of school-age children, plus increasing operational costs will surely lead to more changes in the years ahead.


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