A 120th anniversary is quite an accomplishment. There are few economic enterprises which can claim that level of continuous performance. St Catherine’s Military Academy in Anaheim, California is one of them.
Founded in 1889 by Mother Pia Backes, OP, of the Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose, the school has shown an amazing ability to adapt and change and to march to its own drumbeat, often times as a counter cultural witness to the passing whims of popular notions of what an elementary school should be. Originally, St Catherine’s was established as an orphanage to serve the German community that founded Anaheim as a farm colony.
Later its mission became that of girls school but then market forces demonstrated that a school for boys is what was needed and the sisters re -focused their mission and adopted a military program to offer the boys a model of manly virtue rooted in self – discipline being modeled by the officers who serve as their military advisors to accompany the loving spirit of the women religious.
Today, St Catherine’s Military Academy a resident and day school grades K-8, stands as a lone sentinel among the assault of a modern culture run amok. The boys still dress in military uniform, still move in military formation, still stand when an adult enters the classroom. They take pride in their appearance, their ability to stand at attention without breaking form, end their sentence with sir or maam. Their band still marches to Sousa, the cadets are taught the proper etiquette that shows respect for the flag. Their classroom teachers and curriculum are state of the art, their athletic teams win more than their fair share of championships, their student body is truly multi-cultural with students who live locally as well as residents from all over the US, Mexico, Russia, Korea and Taiwan.
Why would a parent choose to send their boy to such school? Structure, positive role modeling rooted in a visible religious example of the Dominican Sisters, the best traditions of military service as taught by their Marine Commandant.
What happens to these students when they graduate? Some go on to the public high school, others attend private high schools such as Mater Dei, Servite, Loyola, Webb, and St Michael’s Prep which prepare them for university and college; others pursue further military education such as cadet Stephen Hill SCMA class of 2005. He went on to graduate from New Mexico Military Academy in Roswell N.M and is now at Arizona State University and participates with the Navy ROTC.
Still, others go on to discern a calling that they first heard in the halls of SCMA such as Fr Michael Ponterelli OSM who was a member of the class of 1969 and now serves the parish of Mission San Juan Capistrano or George Niederauer class of 1952 who went on to be ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, taught in the seminary for years before being elevated to the college of Bishops first in Salt Lake City, Utah and now as the Archbishop of San Francisco.
Curious that the current occupant of the See of San Francisco would be concelebrating the 120th anniversary mass when it was his predecessor Joseph Sadoc Alemany, first Archbishop of San Francisco who sent Mother Pia to Anaheim in the first place back in 1889. Yes, God’s ways are indeed strange.
However, the root reason for the successful longevity of this school is the long white line of the Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose. Current school Administrator/Principal Sr Johnellen Turner, OP, is merely the most recent occupant of the leader’s chair. The Dominican charism of preaching the truth in love is present in each of the sisters who have lived, led, taught, cleaned, fed, healed and served these boys year in and year out for 12 decades. St Catherine’s Military Academy in Anaheim California celebrates its 120th anniversary.
Now more than ever its teaching mission and formation of virtuous young men is relevant and oh so needed. For more information about St. Catherine’s Military Academy, go to www.stcatherinesmilitaryacademy.org.