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Saint Mary’s Turns 150

Follow one of the oldest colleges in the West through history as we honor Saint Mary’s sesquicentennial year with a look at the school’s past and future.

All photos courtesy of Saint Mary's College of California and Saint Mary's College High School

It’s not every day that a 150th birthday rolls around, but 2013 marks that of both Saint Mary’s College of California and Saint Mary’s College High School. To commemorate the major achievement, we’ve collected the most celebrated dates, people, and milestones, as well as broken down just how different things were when Saint Mary’s first came around in 1863. Both the college and high school are jumping right into their sesquicentennial years with public events in honor of the anniversary of their founding.


Photo courtesy of Saint Mary's College High School   



With a history as rich as that of Saint Mary’s, it’s no wonder it all began around the time of the California Gold Rush. Joseph Sadoc Alemany founded the school in 1863, five years before UC Berkeley opened its doors. There were about 210 students enrolled when the first classes began, and the De La Salle Christian Brothers arrived a few years later to manage the school.
Tuition was roughly $400 a year at the start of the 20th century, and the class of 1900 only included 15 graduates. Since the school opened, Saint Mary’s has seen two other campus locations, including the current 420-acre campus in Moraga.


Since the college and high school separated in 1927, both began accepting females, and 62-percent of the college’s current students are women. The high school now serves more than 600 students, and the college saw its largest-ever graduating class (684 students) in 2012. Tuition is now about $37,000 per year, which is just shy of 250 times more than it was when the school first opened and cost $150 per year. The high school resides in Peralta Park in Berkeley.


Notable Alumni:

Double Up:
• Harry Hooper, a National Baseball Hall of Famer, graduated from the high school in 1904 and the college in 1907.
• Brother Mel Anderson attended the high school before graduating from the college in 1951. He later went on to serve as president of the college for 27 years.

• Tony Martin, 1935: Entertainer of “The Tony Martin Show” and singer of the 1949 hit song “There’s No Tomorrow.”
• Raymond Syufy, Sr., 1940: Founder of Century Theaters
• Bob Ladouceur, 1989: De La Salle High head football coach, holder of longest high school winning streak

High School:
• Sabatte Family: Eight members of the family that founded Berkeley Farms attended Saint Mary’s College High School.
• Robert San Souci, 1964: Writer of the film story of Disney’s “Mulan”
• William McGuiness, 1964: California State Court of Appeals Justice



Athletic Achievements:

Men’s basketball:
The team had its best year in history in 1959 when it made it to the NCAA Tournament Elite 8. More recent success came in 2010, when the team made an appearance in the Sweet 16 for only the second time in school history. The Gaels have six West Coast Conference Championship titles and seven NCAA tournament appearances since the first in 1959.

There was a time during the 1920s in which Slip Madigan served as the college’s football, basketball, and baseball head coach. Over his 19 years as football head coach, he led the team to its best stretch of all time. Madigan is now in the College Football Hall of Fame.

Men’s soccer:
The team had the school’s best playoff run of all time in 2011 when it made it to the NCAA Elite 8 and earned its first-ever West Coast Conference championship title.

Men’s rugby:
In 2012, the team went undefeated in the regular season, and in 2008, there was a USA Rugby Division 1 National Championship Tournament Final Four appearance.



Major Milestones:

• Seven years after doors were opened, the grammar school portion of the institution was moved to Saint Joseph’s Academy in Oakland in order for Saint Mary’s to focus on high school and college levels.
• In 1889, the school moved from its San Francisco location to the East Bay. The new Oakland campus was known as “The Brickpile,” and it took a beating through the years due to fires and the 1906 earthquake.
• The high school and college portions split in 1927 when the high school moved to Berkeley, and the college moved to Moraga shortly after, leaving the Brickpile to be demolished.
• The U.S. Navy began using the Saint Mary’s campus for pilot training after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
• In 1970, Saint Mary’s became co-educational. The high school followed suit in 1995 after 132 years as an all-male school.



Community Involvement:

Members of the communities surrounding Saint Mary’s are welcome to the multiple speaker events held on campus each year. Speakers often include members of Congress, Nobel Prize winners, presidential nominees, and foreign ambassadors. In 2010, the first U.S. senatorial debate, between Barbara Boxer and Carly Fiorina, was hosted on campus.

Lasallian tradition instills a call to action for students when it comes to needs in the community. The college is among the top 20 colleges committed to community service, according to USA Today, and it has been named to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for the past six consecutive years.



Looking Ahead:

Saint Mary’s College’s academic and athletic programs are expanding, and some are gaining new establishments. The newest program, a social justice concentration option for the leadership master’s degree, was introduced in June. Also, a rise in biology graduates from Saint Mary’s is expected, as the program has grown by 131 percent since 2008, according to the San Francisco Business Times. A new Louis Guisto Field opened in February for the baseball team, and an entire athletics and recreation facility is set to make its debut in the sesquicentennial year.

High School:

Renovations are nearing completion for Cronin Hall, which was built in 1959. The building has been retrofitted for seismic safety, and eight classrooms have been remodeled. The school is also in the planning stages of constructing a replacement music facility and campus chapel.




August 26 marks the start of the Year of the Gael. All of the following events are open to the public.

The Sesquicentennial Mass:
This mass will kick off the celebratory year at the College Chapel. A reception will follow on the Chapel lawn. Saturday, September 15, 5 p.m.

Undoubtedly the largest event planned for the anniversary, Gaelebration is a day for family and friends, complete with food trucks, carnival rides, live Saint Mary’s musical and theatrical performances, and giveaways. This on-campus open house is free of charge. Saturday, October 6, 11 a.m.–6 p.m.

Academic Symposia:
Three symposia will be held throughout the year, with the first, “The Catholic Intellectual Tradition,” held October 24. Bishop Marcelo Sanchez-Sorondo is the keynote speaker in the first symposium of the series, known as “The Year of the Great(est) Conversation(s).” The following two will be held in spring.

Jewel of the Bay:
Celebrate Saint Mary’s College’s birthday and help fund student scholarships by dining and dancing at the Jewel of the Bay Sesquicentennial Gala at Treasure Island. Plates are $500 each at this black-tie event. Saturday, November 3, 6 p.m.

Commencement Ceremonies:
The class of 2013 will graduate in the 150th anniversary year. May 25–26, 2013.