Education of youth was a major concern of each of the early Ordinaries of the diocese of Los Angeles. However, Bishop Thomas J. Conaty (1903-1915) provided the first impetus to the development of a Catholic school system. Bishop Conaty, an educator and former college leader, encouraged the establishment of both parochial schools and private institutions. For fifty years prior to Bishop Conaty’s arrival, Catholic education in Southern California had a slow but gradual growth from the opening of the first school in Los Angeles by the Sacred Hearts Fathers (Picpus Fathers) “college” at the Plaza in 1851. During this period, academies or private schools offered elementary and secondary education for students in the 80,000 square mile diocese of Monterey-Los Angeles.
With Bishop Conaty’s arrival came the first diocesan educational plan aimed at providing a continuous program from kindergarten through college under Catholic influence. The Bishop’s first decisive step in educational reorganization was to appoint a Board of Examiners (1903). The duties of this clerical board were to advise him on educational matters, to inspect the schools and to report on the quality of the teaching observed.
On Thursday, August 20, 1903, the first teachers’ meeting was held at the newly established St. Mary’s Academy on 21st and Grand Avenue in Los Angeles. Representing schools in Anaheim, Los Angeles, Oxnard, Pasadena, Redlands, San Diego, Santa Monica and Shorb (now Alhambra) were a number of religious Institutes, namely Daughters of Charity (St. Vincent de Paul), Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose, Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, Sisters of Mercy (Burlingame) and Ursuline Sisters of the Roman Union. This session also included the first recorded principals’ meeting in the diocese.
Annual summer institutes, first held in Santa Monica’s Columbia Hall, provided in-service education and training programs for all teachers, religious and lay, in the schools of the diocese. By popular demand, these sessions were later opened to interested public school and community personnel (1906-1915). At this time a textbook committee was formed from the teaching staffs of the committee (1906) and the diocesan “multiple listing” policy for choice of basic textbooks used in the elementary schools had its origin. No recommendations for the secondary schools were reported.
When Bishop Conaty died on September 18, 1915, he left a well-established pattern of diocesan organization of individual schools which his successor could develop. During Archbishop John J. Cantwell’s long episcopate (1917-1947), he endeavored to meet the needs of a growing and expanding diocese through his educational leadership and administrative talents. He appealed to many religious communities in the United States and abroad to staff schools. In November, 1922, Bishop Cantwell laid the cornerstone for the first diocesan-financed secondary school, Catholic Girls High School, later named Bishop Conaty High School, which was administered by Reverend Peter Corcoran and staffed by members of several religious Institutes of women.
To coordinate the instructional program throughout the diocese, Bishop Cantwell established the Office of Superintendent of Schools in 1920. Reverend Matthew Marron was appointed the first superintendent with responsibility for administering and supervising schools. Steps in the upgrading of staff and the coordination of the instructional program in this period were: the creation of the Office of Superintendent of Schools (1920); the reorganization of the School Board as an Advisory Council (1920); the adoption of a course of study (1924); the appointment of a Board of Supervisors (1932); the appointment of a director of music (1937); the creation of the Office of Assistant Superintendent (1946) and the cooperative efforts of superintendents and community supervisors to improve the quality of instruction in the classrooms.
Shortly after installation as Archbishop of Los Angeles in 1948, the Most Reverend J. Francis A. McIntyre established the Youth Education Fund for the purpose of providing high schools and elementary schools in areas unable to finance building programs. Seventeen schools were built during the first year of this program. At the invitation of the Archbishop, three of the largest teaching communities (Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, and the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary) assigned sisters to full-time service as diocesan supervisors (1950). Subsequent developments included the Manual for Teachers of Elementary Schools (1952) and the development of a curriculum bulletin and library (1955). In 1960 two superintendents were appointed, Reverend Monsignor Joseph Sharpe, the Superintendent of Secondary Education, and Colleges and Reverend Monsignor James B. Clyne, the Superintendent for Elementary Education. Assignments of full-time diocesan consultants for the secondary schools were made in 1965.
Originating with nineteen parochial schools and five academies in 1903 with a total enrollment of 2,895, the population of the schools has grown, making the Los Angeles Archdiocese the fourth largest diocese in the United States in number of Catholic schools and students enrolled. This progress has been due substantially, though indirectly, to the educational leadership of its Ordinaries: Bishop Thomas Conaty, Archbishop John J. Cantwell, Cardinal James Francis McIntyre, Cardinal Timothy Manning and Cardinal Roger Mahony. The direct influence was provided by the school superintendents: Reverend Matthew Marron (1920), Reverend Monsignor William North (1937), Reverend Monsignor Patrick J. Dignan (1939), Reverend Monsignor Joseph Sharpe - Secondary (1960), Reverend Donald Montrose - Secondary (1964), Reverend Monsignor James B. Clyne - Elementary (1960), Reverend Monsignor John A. Mihan - Elementary (1969), Reverend Jeremiah T. Murphy - Secondary (1977).
Cardinal Mahony reorganized the administrative structure of the Archdiocese in 1987 by the formation of five Pastoral Regions and a cabinet form of administration. Sister Cecilia Louise Moore, C.S.J., was appointed the first Secretariat Director for Educational/Formational Services. Monsignor Aidan M. Carroll was appointed Superintendent of Catholic Schools in 1986, unifying both elementary and secondary schools into one department with an Associate Superintendent for Secondary Schools and an Associate Superintendent for Elementary Schools. During the 1980s schools experienced tremendous growth in the establishment of kindergartens. Thanks to archdiocesan benefactors John and Dorothy Shea and Richard Riordan, new kindergartens were built with accompanying Writing to Read Computer Labs in many inner city schools as well as schools in the suburbs.
In 1991 Dr. Jerome R. Porath became the first layperson to be appointed Superintendent. Sr. Bernadette Murphy, S.S.L., was appointed Secretariat Director for Educational/Formational Services in 1999. In the fall of 2000, the organizational structure was revised to include a Superintendent for Elementary Schools, Sr. Mary Elizabeth Galt, B.V.M.; a Superintendent for Secondary Schools, Nancy Coonis; and a President of Catholic Schools, Reverend Albert J. DiUlio, S.J., who assumed that position in July 2001. In July 2004, the structure was again revised to have Superintendents for Elementary and Secondary Schools and no President. In 2003, Patricia Livingston succeeded Sr. Mary Elizabeth Galt, B.V.M., (who became Chancellor of the Archdiocese), as Superintendent for Elementary Schools. In 2008, Fr. Sabato Pilato was appointed by Cardinal Mahony to succeed Nancy Coonis as Superintendent of Secondary Schools. In 2009, Dr. Kevin Baxter succeeded Patricia Livingston as Superintendent for Elementary Schools. Over the years, dedicated and competent professional staffs have ably assisted the superintendents in their ministry.
During the years of educational growth the involvement of parents in educational ministry has evolved to include not only financial support but also active participation in the educational programs. These programs include parent organizations, various boards related to education and a variety of direct school services. Early childhood programs also expanded during the 2000s with the establishment of preschools. By 2008 approximately 86 preschools were attached to elementary schools or to parishes in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Another development was the establishment of new models of governance and structure. The first Regional Preschool, San Antonio de Padua Academy Preschool, opened in September, 2008 to serve the needs of four parishes in East Los Angeles.
The Catholic Education Foundation was founded in 1987 by Cardinal Mahony with initial funding by the Archdiocese, individuals and other charitable entities. The Education Foundation continues to raise funds and has grown to a major resource to fund needs-based scholarships for students attending Archdiocesan supported elementary and high schools. A special program, SOS, funds the most “at risk” students in these schools. For the schools most in need, CEF supports art and sports programs and provides buses for field trips. The leadership programs fund tuition at Catholic universities for teacher credentials and principal development.
The educational mission of the Catholic Church remains an integrated ministry embracing three interlocking dimensions: message, community and service. Today the Catholic schools in the Archdiocese strive to be communities of faith in which the Christian message, the experience of community, worship and social concern are integrated into a total experience for students, their parents and the members of the school staff.
The schools are a living fulfillment of an educational plan begun by Bishop Conaty for the diocese dedicated to Our Lady of the Angels.