By Peter Bradley
Note: As the Year of Consecrated Life continues, this column wants to recognize a religious community that made a significant contribution to the early decades of the Catholic Church in San Bernardino County.
Enroute to the First Vatican Council (1869-1870), Bishop Thaddeus Amat, CM of the Diocese of Monterey-Los Angeles (1854-1878), stopped in Spain to invite the members of the newly created Immaculate Heart of Mary Community to come work in his diocese. In 1871 ten Sisters arrived in California; five Sisters went to Gilroy to start an academy and the others went to San Juan Bautista to work in an orphanage.
In 1880, Bishop Amat wrote to the Immaculate Heart of Mary Community asking them to staff a new school in San Bernardino. The religious community agreed to the request, and took on their fourth commitment since arriving in California. The initial Sisters who came to San Bernardino were Sister Conception Compta, Sister Carmen Div, Sister Teresa Phelan, Sister Vibiana Lynch, Sister Mary Dolores and Sister Mary Nevarra.
St. Catherine Convent School was named after its primary benefactor, Mrs. Catherine Quinn. It was initially located just east of St. Bernardine Church. The attendance in the first year for all the classes was 32 day students and three boarders. The cost for a day student was $1/month.
Later, a boy’s school was established, and by 1886 there were 120 children receiving instruction from a faculty of seven sisters. In 1893, St. Catherine’s was reorganized as an orphanage. By 1899, there was an enrollment of 55 orphans and 28 day students.
Rev. John Brady, the pastor of St. Bernardine Parish from 1903-1918, opened a new parochial school in 1907 to respond to the growth in the parish. The Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters agreed to staff the new school in addition to St. Catherine Convent School. The Catholic population of San Bernardino continued to increase during and after World War I.
The next pastor, Rev. Nicholas Conneally, began the construction of a new school building which was destined to house both the grammar school and high school for the next 50 years.
By the mid-1920’s, the faculty of Immaculate Heart Sisters had growth to 19 Sisters. The total enrollment of the grammar school and high school was over 500 students.
Even though the St. Catherine Convent School closed in 1925, the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters continued to staff the St. Bernardine Grammar and High School. The community also was the faculty at the new grammar school at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in San Bernardino when it opened in 1919.
World War II brought new growth to the greater San Bernardino area. The Immaculate Heart of Mary Community was asked to staff new grammar schools at St. Anne Parish, San Bernardino (1948), Immaculate Conception Parish, Colton (1952) and St. Adelaide Parish, Highland (1962).
By the 1960’s, the Immaculate Heart of Mary Community had 30 Sisters teaching in six schools in San Bernardino County.
By the 1970’s, the reduced number of Sisters and other community changes resulted in a lesser presence in San Bernardino. One of the last Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters to teach at St. Bernardine High School was Sister Phyllis Straling (1969-1971), the sister of the first Bishop of the Diocese of San Bernardino, Bishop Phillip Straling.
For over 90 years from 1880 – 1971, the Immaculate Heart of Mary Religious Community provided a quality Catholic education to several thousand graduates of the San Bernardino area. Their educational contribution helped to build the foundation for the new Diocese of San Bernardino in 1978.
Peter Bradley is Director of the Office of Archives in the Diocese of San Bernardino.