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Hundreds of Alumni Gather for Centennial of Pioneer Catholic School

TIMES STAFF WRITER

They may have never sat next to each other in class or shared notes or secrets.

Yet in their memories there is a sameness, an echo that reverberates from a place they still hold dear. And when they speak, this is what is heard, not the things that separate them, but a place--St. Andrew Catholic School in Pasadena--that binds them.

“We had beautiful, happy associations,” said 90-year-old Cecilia Kealey, a member of the class of 1925. “We had that whole great big room full, and Sister Coronada kept track of us all.”

“All of the sisters would sit on the stage and the students sat looking forward, perfectly still,” said Sheila Arnold-Jones, 52. “That’s the control the Sisters of the Holy Names had. It was a wonderful experience for self-discipline.”

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Kealey and Arnold-Jones were among the hundreds of alumni who attended a picnic Saturday at Brookside Park in celebration of the school’s 100th anniversary.

In between games of volleyball and bingo, horseshoes and sack races, adults shared their memories of the school’s long history--memories that help explain the school’s longevity.

“We all loved the sisters,” said Sister Mary Petra, who attended the school from 1935 to 1938 and returned to teach from 1948 to 1956. “By the time I finished my junior year I knew I wanted to be a sister.”

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The school--now on Chestnut Street--opened in 1897 as the Academy of the Holy Names in a rented house on North Fair Oaks Avenue. Within the Catholic Church, this was an era of changes with historic significance.

“It was just about that time that the precursor of today’s Conference of Catholic Bishops came out with a statement that said every parish should have a school in which to educate the children,” said Sister Frances White of St. Andrew, who helped organize the celebration.

With this as the backdrop, the Sisters of the Holy Names set about to teach. The first principal was Sister Mary Rose of the Passion. She and three other sisters--Mary Andre Corsini, Agnes of Mary and Miriam Josepha--ran the school, resorting to the same money-raising tactics used by schools today: They held bake sales and raffles, White said.

In 1898 the sisters had raised enough money to purchase land and pay for the construction of a school at Fair Oaks and Walnut Street. In 1923 the school moved to its present location, and in 1949 the existing building was built.

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Many who attended the picnic spoke of the environment created at the school by the nuns. In 1925 or 1960, they created a family environment: strict but loving.

Eileen Silvio, class of 1960, and Arnold-Jones, class of 1962, remember the sisters as cultured women from wealthy families. The sisters taught them etiquette and how to tango and waltz, and would call home if a girl danced too close or too long with one partner.

“Sheila was always in the dean’s office,” Silvio said with a laugh.

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“There was always a note on the bulletin board: ‘S. Arnold see the dean,’ ” Arnold-Jones said.

But back then, the worst thing a child did was wear a skirt too short (if it didn’t touch the floor when you kneeled it was too short) or talk in the hallway or squeeze lemon in her hair to get light streaks.

“They had high expectations for us,” Silvio said.

“And we lived up to them,” Arnold-Jones added.

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Arnold-Jones is what people at St. Andrew call a “lifer,” someone who attended the school from first grade through high school. And after years of teaching in public schools she and Silvio returned to St. Andrew to teach. Arnold-Jones’ son Marcus Jones is now a coach at the school, and her granddaughter Jasmine attends kindergarten there.

“I honestly believe if it wasn’t for the sisters I wouldn’t have a master’s degree today,” Arnold-Jones said.

Music and drama have always been an important part of the program at St. Andrew, White said.

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At 76, Siter Mary Petra still remembers the productions she participated in, “The Neighbors” and “The Pampered Darling.” And she recalls other high moments, like the time a cardinal visited the school.

“It was memorable because he later became Pope Pius XII,” Sister Mary Petra said. “He blessed us and admired our church.”

Sister Mary Petra too became a teacher, inspired by what she saw in the sisters who taught her, and the sense of family and community she felt at the school.

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After the closure of the high school portion of the school in 1980, the alumni association fell apart, making the job of locating alumni for the 100th anniversary difficult, White said.

White placed notices in the bulletins of Catholic churches within the San Gabriel Valley searching for alumni, hoping to inform them of the events planned for the anniversary. The enthusiasm has been overwhelming, she said.

“Anywhere you go in Pasadena, if you mention St. Andrew there will be one if not five people who will say, ‘I went there or my parents or my uncle.’ People are proud and happy to have been connected with St. Andrew,” she said.


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