St. Francis High School

Our History » Home

Home

Around the time of World War II, the Irish Capuchin Franciscan friars planned to found a minor seminary modeled on the ‘seraphic schools’ of Europe. The Archbishop of Los Angeles asked them to consider taking day students as well as seminarians, and so in 1946 St. Francis High School was established, with three Capuchin Franciscan friars on the faculty.

In the autumn of 1946, with the dark days of World War II behind them, a small group of twenty-five young men entered St. Francis High School. The late Fr. Stephen Murtaugh OFM Cap. had purchased the grounds, once the Flintridge Country Club, with an eye to founding a minor seminary for aspirants to the Capuchin Franciscan Order. That the twenty-five students were there at all was thanks to the Archbishop of Los Angeles, The Most Reverend John H. Cantwell, who had requested that day students be admitted with the seminarians.
 
The biggest development for the Capuchins in this area, however, was the establishment of St. Francis High School. The idea of a 'seraphic school' in the West had not died with the fire in Mendocino. When the American mission was raised to a Custody in 1937, one of the directives was "that in the Custody, one of the first things to be done is to found a seraphic school."
 
Stephen Murtagh began to gather funds for this purpose, but by 1940 he had only $5000. Archbishop Cantwell encouraged the friars in this project, and with the end of the war in 1945 Stephen began an active search for a site. He found an old country club in the Flintridge area, north of Los Angeles. The owner had not been able to make it pay, and so the Capuchins were able to buy the buildings and property, which was extensive.
 
Though he realized the purpose for which it was founded, Archbishop Cantwell hoped that the foundation could also benefit the archdiocese, and asked Stephen if he would consider taking in day students from the area, which lacked a Catholic high school of its own. With permission from Ireland, Stephen agreed to open the school to other students than seminarians. This was a big step, for as we shall see, it formed the character of the high school almost from the beginning. The archbishop also told the friars that there might be an opportunity for the Capuchins to establish a parish in the area, but circumstances prevented this from happening.
 
Stephen reported that:

"...our teachers were not able to get transportation from Ireland until 1947. But I had promised the Archbishop to start school in September, 1946. This I did--we began with 30 boys and three teachers: Fr. Daniel, Doctor Quinlan, and myself."

Dr. Patrick Quinlan was from Ireland and was studying at Cal Tech, which was in nearby Pasadena. Stephen, in addition to teaching, was still pastor of St. Francis parish as well as Custos. Daniel Duffy had come to California after working in New York and Oregon.

In 1947, the new teachers arrived from Ireland. Valerian O’Leary was named first rector. Two other new teachers were Bros. Alphonsus O'Connor and Emilian Meade. They were later joined by Cyril Kelleher and Paul Barrett. They were able to get their accreditation at nearby Immaculate Heart College. The high school seminary began to fulfill its purpose. Thomas Berry Walsh, who graduated with the first senior class in 1950, entered the Order as Bro. Michael and was sent to Wilmington for his novitiate. Another candidate for the Order, James G. Corbin (now Marian), was sent to the high school for a year to study Latin, before he, too, was sent east for novitiate. When they were ordained in 1958, the Alvernian, the yearbook for St. Francis, proudly proclaimed them the "First Fruits of the Seminary." As vocations thus developed, the Order began to take root in the West.

The first chapel for the new school was located in the former barroom of the country club. The ballroom served as a study hall, and locker rooms were transformed into classrooms. Part of the original building, which was 1/13 of a mile long, was used as the friary. Conditions were cramped until new bedrooms were added in 1948, as well as a dormitory for the seminary students. Early on the school began its tradition of having a strong sports program, and the football field was begun in 1947.

The school began to grow, a growth which has never really stopped. As the number of students increased, the need for new facilities became urgent. In 1952/53 a new building was added to the campus. It contained seven new classrooms, a science lab, a locker room, and additional office space. To fund the expansion part of the land which came with the country club was sold to the government and became the site of public schools.

In 1952, when Emilian Meade became rector, St. Francis had six friars on the teaching staff and 155 students, mostly day students. "Only a small number of these boys are boarders, aspirants to the Order." Because of its size, there was present on campus a family spirit, involving not only the staff and student body, but also the parents, who were keenly interested in the school and its growth. The school soon had a reputation for excellence in academics and sports. However, as Stephen Murtagh put it, the first mission of the friars there was Franciscan. "There lives are a daily sermon to the boys. The kind of Sermon St. Francis wished his followers to teach--by example."

Today, more than a half-century later, St. Francis continues its tradition of enriching the minds and hearts of young men. That first small group of twenty-five has grown to more than 600 young men from the surrounding communities of the west San Gabriel Valley, and the school has developed apace in the challenging pursuit of high academic standards and individual spirituality through the sacredness of St. Francis' teachings. St. Francis High School remains steadfastly committed to the development of the whole person.