The History of Old Mission School

Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa
"True worth is in being not seeming
Some little good not in dreaming
Of great things to do bye and bye
For what ever men do in their blindness
And spite of the fancies of youth
There's nothing so kingly as kindness
There's nothing so royal as truth."

Excerpt from student Elsie Arnold's Old Mission School notebook dated 1899.
(Archived in the San Luis Obispo County Historical Society Museum)

1876 - 1924

The predecessor of Old Mission Catholic School was the San Luis Obispo Mission School, established by the Franciscans as a part of the mission's program of evangelization and education during the early mission history. The school program changed radically with the political and social developments of the succeeding century. The school now known as Old Mission School was founded in 1876 and was a central institution in the city of San Luis Obispo. It has the distinct honor of being the oldest school on the Central Coast.

On August 2, 1876, eight Daughters (later called Sisters) of the Immaculate Heart of Mary community arrived in San Luis Obispo from their motherhouse in Gilroy, California. The community had come from Spain in 1870 and its prioress, Mother Raimunda Cremadell, had already established schools in Gilroy and San Juan Bautista. Old Mission School continues to hold a special place in the hearts of this community of sisters because of its unique and important place in the history of their religious community. On August 16, 1876, the Sisters were ready to open the new, private Academy of the Immaculate Heart of Mary on the site that is now Mission College Prep. The academy offered both an elementary and secondary education until 1886. It was also a boarding school and convent during its early years. Several recognizable families, such as Fiscalini, Biaggini, Madonna, and Hearst, began to arrive on the Central Coast and set up business and industry. Lack of adequate roads and transportation made life challenging, and families were relieved that students traveling into San Luis Obispo had the option of staying at school during the week. Beds were placed in the back of some of the classrooms for boarders. In 1886, the secondary department was closed due to the need for the Sisters to staff the new Cathedral School in Los Angeles, California. The academy building was nearly destroyed in a fire sometime shortly before 1924, and the Sisters scrambled for other space to teach the elementary students. They turned to Mission Parish for assistance, and the school became a parochial school in the diocese. Mission Parish decided to build both a convent and a new school building.

1925 - 1964

In 1924, the plans were formulated by Reverend Keenan, the pastor, to erect the new parochial grammar and secondary school in San Luis Obispo. The building was completed in September, 1926. One of the fund-raising events for building the school was called La Fiesta de Las Flores. Later in history, this event became an annual event sponsored by the city of San Luis Obispo to celebrate its heritage, and continues to the present day. The new building housed the grade school and high school classes on separate floors. The building was dedicated on August 19, 1926, the feast day of San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, and was named Mission High School in honor of the parish and the old Spanish padres. Before the end of the first school year, Sister Mary Gabriel (the principal) succeeded in getting the high school program fully accredited by the University of California at Berkeley (1927).

The school survived the Great Depression, a time that spurred a young Alex Madonna to entrepreneurship in the construction business. Jump ahead to 1944 and the war era, when the spirit of unity and cooperation lead a group of mothers of school children to form Mission Mothers Club to help raise money for school projects (a "Parents Club" ahead of its time. Through their efforts, the cafeteria was set up and furnished in the early 1950s to serve the first hot lunches to the children.

In the 1950's and 60's, while the country was experiencing many changes, the school also moved through transformations, additions, consolidations, and name changes. Increases in the number of pupils in grades 1-8 necessitated the opening of additional rooms and the building of a new school plant on the property next door (761 Broad Street). In 1957, Reverend William Scully, the school administrator and parish priest, began and completed plans to provide separate facilities for the elementary school children apart from the high school teens. By September, 1962, at least sixteen classrooms were needed to accommodate the number of students enrolled in the elementary school.

The building at 761 Broad Street included eight classrooms and became the school for elementary students and was known as Mission Grammar School. The high school was named Mission Central Catholic High School. Because the site on Broad Street was extremely small, and because of the difficulty of securing additional land near it, and in view of the geographical distribution of the city, eight additional rooms were built on a new site at 221 Daly Street, north of the Broad Street campus. This new school, named Mission School Annex, was completed in 1961, and began operation in January, 1962. Both school sites educated grades 1-8. Both school sites were part of Mission Parish. During 1962-63, separate principals served each of these two schools. Beginning the next year, a principal stationed at Broad Street was put in charge of both schools, assisted by a vice-principal who worked at the Daly Street site. That practice has continued to the present day.

In 1964, the diocese decided that the city of San Luis Obispo needed a second parish. The land and the school building on the Daly Street site were given to this new Nativity parish. The school was renamed Nativity Grammar School (grades 1-8) and became part of Nativity Parish. The Parents Club now separated into three clubs: one for Mission Central Catholic High School, one for Mission Grammar School, and one for Nativity Grammar School. In 1968, Mission Grammar School and Nativity Grammar School were consolidated (still under one administrator) and renamed Mission-Nativity Elementary School. The purpose of the consolidation was to offer the best education possible for the children, to utilize the abilities and talents of the teaching staff to the fullest degree possible, and to minimize expenses of both schools by sharing the administration, materials, textbooks and AV materials. Both parishes subsidized the school. The new organization enabled teachers to better address individual academic needs, to departmentalize teaching in grades 5-8, and to offer enrichment and remedial programs at stated times during the week. The Mission-Nativity Elementary School Board of Education was formed and began operation in 1968. This board was formed as a regulatory board operating the educational facilities of Mission-Nativity School.

1965 - 2000

The 1970's saw an increase in families with young children, and a decrease in students of high school age. In June, 1970, Mission Central Catholic High School in San Luis Obispo was closed and Mission-Nativity School expanded to include the ninth grade. In addition, Mission-Nativity School took over the operation of the Mission High School building for its junior high program. The elementary school now had three campuses: 221 Daly, 761 Broad, and 682 Palm. The morning program for preschool-aged children and a kindergarten was begun at the Nativity site in September, 1971. Due to the need for preschool programs in this area and the many applications that had been received, an afternoon program for preschool-aged children was added in the spring of 1972.

The Mission-Nativity School facilities were used in the following ways: the junior high program (in what is currently the MCP building) for grades 7-9; grades 1 - 6 (in what is currently the OMS building) for grades 1— 6; and an early-childhood preschool through kindergarten education program (at the Nativity site); a multi-purpose room, faculty lounge, and kitchen usage were also available on the Nativity site. The site was part of Mission parish, and the building was built as a school for the use of Catholic elementary education occurring at that time.

On the junior high campus (the current MCP building), there were six general classrooms, a radio station/electronics classroom, a home economics classroom, science classroom, project activity room, gym/stage, cafeteria/kitchen, library, and playground. (Note: Rooms 104 and 204 were not used). In the elementary school campus, there were six general classrooms (grades 1-6), a religious- education office/classroom, a learning center, a library, and a playground.

Beginning September, 1972, Mission-Nativity School offered programs for children from preschool through grade nine for approximately 365 children. It was strongly supported by an active Parents Club, a School Board, Mission Parish, Nativity Parish, and the Mission School Memorial Foundation. This foundation was founded in 1970 to further Catholic education in the San Luis Obispo area. Just prior to the 1979-80 school year, the Daly Street site was closed, except for one preschool class, and Nativity Parish reclaimed the space for other purposes. The kindergarten program was relocated to Room 10 on the Broad Street site, and the school was renamed Old Mission School. Old Mission School and Nativity Parish never again shared the ministry of education. At the start of the 1980-81 school year, kindergarten was invited to use the space at the Nativity site for one more year. From 1981 to 1984, the preschool and kindergarten programs were relocated again, this time into the Palm Street building, sharing the space with the junior high program.

The 1980's saw a resurgence of interest in Catholic secondary education. In 1982, the enrollment in preschool through ninth grade stood at 300 students. The school was administered by a layman, staffed by laypersons and two Immaculate Heart Sisters. The Catholic high school reopened in 1983 under the name Mission College Preparatory School, and Old Mission School's seventh and eighth grades moved to the Broad Street site. The high school was designated by the diocese a diocesan high school who shared the field and the parking lot with the elementary school. The ninth grade became, once again, part of the high school. In 1984, the preschool through kindergarten programs returned to the Daly Street campus. This time, however, the program was not part of Nativity Parish. Nativity Parish decided they could no longer financially support a school. Instead, Nativity Parish allowed Old Mission School to use part of their parish space in the building on Daly Street, and Old Mission School rented four classrooms. By 1993, Old Mission School was staffed entirely by layperson because the Immaculate Heart sisters were recalled to their schools in the Los Angeles area.

Old Mission School Today

Over the years, Old Mission School has paid Nativity parish rent to use four classrooms on the Daly site, but in 2001, the School Advisory Board and the Nativity Parish Board worked out a site-usage agreement based on actual costs of operation. Currently, Old Mission School enjoys a very positive relationship with Nativity parish.

Throughout its history, Old Mission School has enjoyed the reputation of providing fine academic and spiritual programs in an atmosphere that fosters a sense of family among students, parents and staff. Old Mission School serves families from both Mission parish and Nativity parish. Other students travel from Nipomo in the south, to Morro Bay in the west, and to Paso Robles in the north. The majority of students have gone to school together since preschool.

Many respected members of the community are recognized as Old Mission School graduates. Numerous families have remained in the area for generations. To date, the majority of students in the school have gone to school together since preschool.

Today, Old Mission School offers classes in preschool through 8th grade and continues the tradition set 132 years ago, with dedicated teachers and parents who recognize that education is the hallmark of San Luis Obispo's future. The school supports a policy of educating the whole child, embracing fundamentals of faith and academic study, moral direction, community service, and the fine arts and physical education.

Each grade incorporates monthly service projects, and the school as a whole participates in such serve projects as "Get on the Bus," a program that protects each child's right to know and touch their parent, helping children and their guardians visit fathers at the California Men's colony. The school also adopts families at Christmastime, and helps restock the food bank at Thanksgiving. Seventh and eighth grade students invest a total of 30 hours of service at community agencies or in global efforts to make the world a better place.

The Old Mission Thrift Store on Higuera Street earns money for the school all year long, asking school parents to volunteer their assistance. The Thrift Store also regularly assists local residents in need, whether they are victims of a disaster or they find themselves homeless or they are interviewing for a job and need clothing.

Throughout its history, noted Principal Teri Stegman, "Old Mission School has enjoyed the reputation of providing a fine academic program in a faith-centered environment, fostering a sense of family and community among students, parents and staff. It has continually been recognized as a school that teaches social responsibility to students who most often go on to master a college-preparatory curriculum while being forward-thinking and ethically centered."