Founding Traditions: 1920-1929
Even though the high school found itself in the ramshackle Shirt Factory, sharing it with the college division, it thrived and began new traditions, such as the creation of the Wildcat mascot. Athletic victories came in the big three sports, with the basketball team taking the state championship in 1926 and a league title in 1927, the first year SI entered the AAA. League crowns also came in baseball (1921 and 1927) and tennis (1926 and 1928). By the end of the decade, SI left the Shirt Factory in 1929 for modern quarters up the hill on Stanyan Street, separating from the college for the first time and cementing its identity as an independent high school. It also found itself, along with the nation, at the start of the Great Depression.
Despite all these calamities, school life proceeded apace. SI started a new tradition in 1919 with its first senior prom after class president George Devine ’19 proposed that the school hold a formal graduation prom at the Palace Hotel. The Jesuits wrote to Father-General in Rome for permission, and he agreed that it was part of a young gentleman’s education.
The Jesuits Move North to Welch Hall
In 1920 the Jesuits benefited again from the generosity of Mrs. Bertha Welch, who built a residence hall for the priests adjacent to the church. Rather than donate funds to the Jesuits, she oversaw construction herself as while she was “altogether genuinely fond of the Fathers, as she had shown abundantly in the past, she was not overly convinced of their business acumen….”1
The former Jesuit residence in the Shirt Factory was turned into classrooms, and the Jesuits expanded the science labs, which while improving the school, also moved it further into debt. Two massive fund-raisers, the May Festival, held in 1921 and 1924, took place in the Civic Auditorium, and the SI Jesuits managed to repay a $100,000 loan to the Hibernia Bank.
(Jesuits in both the college and high school communities lived together in Welch Hall from 1921 until 1959 when the USF Jesuits moved to Xavier Hall. The Jesuits teaching at the high school stayed at Welch until 1969 when they moved to McGucken Hall in the Sunset District campus. Welch Hall was demolished in 1970 and the open lawn area is now called Welch Field. From all reports, Welch Hall offered threadbare accommodations, and some of the high school priests in the 1960s perhaps resented the fact that they had to remain there, with its leaking roof, while their college counterparts moved into modern quarters.)
SI’s First Two Principals
The high school department in 1924 was led for the first time not by the college president but by a principal. The first principal, Fr. Cornelius Buckley, SJ, ran the school from 1924 to 1926, presiding over a faculty of 11 Jesuits and 12 laymen.
Fr. Buckley graduated from SI’s preparatory department in 1890 and two years later from SI College. He joined the Society of Jesus in Los Gatos and, after studies in Spokane, returned to SI to teach briefly before leaving to continue his studies in Italy and England. He was ordained in 1908 in Dublin and returned to the Bay Area where he served as dean of students at SCU (1912–1922) and as a teacher of novices (1922–1924) before becoming SI’s first principal. He served as a history professor at USF from 1926 until 1935 when heart trouble forced him into early retirement from the classroom. From 1936 until his death, he served as Regent of the USF Law School and as spiritual director of several San Francisco convents.
After his death on January 20, 1947, the following obituary appeared in theProvince News of the California Province of the Society of Jesus: “Fr. Buckley was a well educated man, both in secular and religious subjects. He was an excellent teacher, and a very popular confessor. In 1946 he heard 18,000 confessions.” He used to voice his disapproval of the training that Jesuit seminarians were receiving. “He did this once too often, for the Provincial, Fr. Francis Dillon in 1922, sent him to Los Gatos [for more formation] to remedy the situation.”
The author of the obituary noted that Fr. Buckley usually submitted his reports on SI to the Province office late. “The only difficulty was to get the report on time. He was usually one to two years late. Strange to tell, he was up to date when death called him.”
Succeeding Fr. Buckley was Fr. Albert Whelan, SJ, the younger brother of Fr. Edward Whelan, SJ, president of St. Ignatius College. Of Fr. Albert Whelan, McGloin writes the following of this “Prefect of Studies” — another term for principal: “Those who remember the Albert Whelan regime recall that he ran what perhaps may best be described as a ‘tight ship’ — for he was a disciplinarian par excellence and tolerated little in the way of infractions.”
Ken Atwell ’29 remembered one incident that illustrates this quality: “One day, after seeing a disturbance in the hallway, Fr. Whelan rushed out and pinned the suspected ringleader to the bulletin board by the neck. The trouble is, he chose the wrong boy. The next day, that boy’s father, a wealthy physician showed up and proceeded to tell Fr. Whelan what he thought of him and the institution. He told Fr. Whelan, ‘If you take off that collar, I’ll give you a whipping.’ Fr. Whelan ripped the collar off, but the doctor turned around and left.”
Basketball: SI Wins its First State Title
SI’s basketball teams enjoyed great success in the 1920s. By 1921, SI took first in the city in the 145-pound division with a 67–1 victory over Mission. The unlimited (or varsity) team of 1922, led by “Scotchy” Hamilton and “Goat” Turner, went undefeated to win the league title. In the 1925–26 academic year, Frank Needles led the 145 team to an 8–0 record and then asked state officials if his team could compete in the California Interscholastic Federation playoffs for the state championship. He received permission to play and to include members of the unlimited squad as reserves.
In CIF competition, SI beat Tamalpais Union High School (25–17) and Pacific Grove (31–22) before taking to the road to play Palo Alto High School. Standouts such as Tom Feerick and Ray Maloney helped SI win 32–14. Next came Napa on that school’s home court, and SI eked out a 18–16 victory after a tough competition. SI beat Marysville for the Northern California championship at a neutral court in San Francisco. Senior George Olsen helped SI take the day with a 34–22 victory. “A group of us went to Napa on a bus to see SI win,” recalls Jack O’Dea ’28. “George Olson intercepted a pass and went for a lay-up to win the game. When we got outside, the Napa fans were so angry that they began taking it out on us, riding their motorcycles through our crowd.”
Next, on April 3, 1926, came Lemoore, the best team from Southern California. SI won 20–11 in what proved to be the lowest-scoring state championship game in California history. It was also the first state championship for any SI (and San Francisco) team, but not the last; in the 1990s, SI’s cross country, crew and lacrosse teams would earn state titles.
SI would continue to shine in basketball, with another league championship in 1927 when the unlimited team beat Galileo 21–18. The Depression would eventually cause SI to reduce the number of teams to four — the 110, 120, 130 and varsity), but they would not enjoy league supremacy again until 1943.
In 1923, the school hired Jimmy Needles, (“one of the leading half-backs of the Pacific Coast,” according to the September 13, 1923, Red and Blue) to serve as football coach for both the college and high school teams. Two years later, when Jimmy decided to work exclusively with the college athletes, the high school hired his younger brother, Frank Needles to replace him. Frank, a star at Gonzaga University, coached both football and basketball for six years. George Malley, the father of Pat Malley ’49, succeeded him in 1929. (Pat Malley, a star athlete in his own right, went on to coach football at SI and at SCU where he eventually became athletic director. He was honored posthumously in 1985 with the Christ the King award — SI’s highest honor to a graduate.)
Baseball & The Birth of the Wildcat
The SI baseball team turned in a strong showing in 1924, led by coach “Fat” Varni, taking second to SH in the San Francisco Athletic League led by junior outfielder Frank McGloin, who would later captain the team in his senior year and manage it from 1930 to 1942. (His son, John Bernard McGloin ’29, would graduate from SI, join the Society of Jesus, teach at USF and author several works including Jesuits by the Golden Gate, a primary source for this history.)
In 1927, the baseball team, under coach Lorenzo Malone, SJ, won the AAA championship. The following year marked the birth of the term “Wildcat” as the name for the school’s athletic teams. Before that, the teams were called the Gray Fog, a name given to SI by a sports writer. Later teams facetiously called themselves the Foglets and Fogletettes (for lightweight divisions). Sometimes, when they lost, they were known as the Drab Drizzle, according to the January 25, 1928, issue of The Red and Blue. That article went on to note that “with the separation of college and high school, it has been found desirable to distinguish the teams more strongly. Since the college was originally dubbed the Gray Fog, the Board of Control thinks it fitting that the college lightweights be called the Foglets, and the name has already been applied to them.
“This leaves the high school in an advantageous position…. and now we have the opportunity to rechristen the teams permanently…. The name Wildcats has been decided upon, as best symbolizing the spirit of the high school teams. They have always been lighter than their opponents, and always been noted for their fighting spirit when in difficulties. Their goal line defense, and last-minute rallies on the basketball court, have been proverbial.
“Moreover, it seems to be the universal custom to name teams after some animal — St. Ignatius can now take her place with the Cogswell Dragons, the Commerce Bulldogs, the Poly Parrots and the Galileo Lions.”
Swimming, Track & Tennis
Swimming began in 1924 when football coach Jimmy Needles created SI’s first team, though he only coached them that one year. The 1924 Ignatian reported that “There is not too much material, but several boys among them being Cole, McGibben and Murphy, are showing quite some form and speed in practice.”2 The team had its first formal coach in 1927 when SI hired Tom Kiernan “a noted developer of many national stars.” That year, too, saw the team practice in a new location at the Young Men’s Institute.
The track team continued to excel in the ’20s, with the 1924 juniors, coached by Charley Hunter, beating Mission 133–24. The following year the lightweight track team beat Lowell in a dual meet.3
The tennis team, competing in the courts at Golden Gate Park, won the city championship in 1926 and went on to CIF competition and won the AAA championship in 1928.
The Red and Blue
The high school launched a new tradition October 14, 1920, with the publication of its first newspaper, The Red and Blue, with Eustace Cullinan, Jr. ’21, as the first editor. (Cullinan would later serve as a San Francisco Superior Court judge.) In his inaugural editorial, he sounded a refrain familiar to most editors of student publications when he criticized the student body for lack of school spirit: “This year at St. Ignatius there seems to be something lacking, which ought to be present. There is not the old bustling activity that accompanied scholastic activities. In short, the students of St. Ignatius seem to be lapsing gradually into a lithargy [sic]…. We conclude that the cause of the evil must lie with the students. In past years, the very atmosphere of the school was charged with action; a keen, wholesome spirit of interclass rivalry existed, yet, paradoxical as it may seem, the school acted as a harmonious whole; we were all one big family together. We used to hear of ‘Buck’ and ‘Spud’ but now we speak of ‘O’Brien’ and ‘Sullivan.’”
Cullinan went on to note that “there is something besides mere knowledge, which is just as great in its own way, and even more apt to benefit us in later life. It is the forming of acquaintances and friendships which may endure long after the Greek verbs and rules of Geometry have passed from our minds.”
He concluded with the reason for the paper’s existence: “to give our school what other high schools have, namely, a monthly publication which will review the student activities, and which will spread the achievements of St. Ignatius far and wide…. The Seniors have taken the initiative and are sponsoring the paper for the first edition, feeling that it was up to them to start the ball a-rolling. However, we expect this to be a school paper wherein every class will take an active part in its publication. Above all, don’t be deceived by ‘scholastic Bolsheviks,’ who may say this is a ‘fourth year paper.’”
For all this seriousness, the last page of the four-page broadsheet offered these humorous asides:
“Heard in Trig —
“Joe Meaney — This stuff is killing me by inches.
“Ye Teacher — Cheer up Joe, you have a long way to go!”
“Clarence Gilly requests that his many admirers desist from calling him their ‘little lamb’ as it makes him feel so ‘sheepish like.’”
“This one takes the well-known brown derby. A dainty freshman has declined to play football because the ball is made of pigskin.”
In 1920, the same year as The Red and Blue saw its first edition, SI was denied accreditation after a visit by “Dr. Thomas” from the University of California on April 13. According to McGloin, Dr. Thomas found that the “subject matter of the courses offered was not sufficiently broad; second, the teachers, with some exceptions, were not regarded as satisfactory.” The following year, students, teachers and administrators worked to improve the school and received accreditation in 1921.4
The Ignatian & The Heights
The Ignatian continued to publish as a yearbook, though it went through a major redesign. From 1910 through 1924, it published as a small pamphlet with a cardboard cover. In 1925 it published in a more traditional yearbook style with larger pages (10.75 x 7.75 inches) and a hardbound cover. From the first, it raised funds through advertisements from local merchants. It reported on both university and high school events, as the two schools shared the same building until 1927 when the college moved to Campion Hall at the USF site. The 1928Ignatian covered only the college events, leaving the high school students to create their own yearbook, in 1928, which they named The Heights, in anticipation of the school’s move in 1929 to its new, higher location on Stanyan Street.
That first edition included this foreword: “This book purposes to be a record of the school year. A book can be nothing more than a record of the human acts or thoughts, and insomuch as it records them faithfully, therein lies its worth and its reason for being. But a school journal, if it accomplishes this purpose, as we hope this has, is more than a cold, lifeless record. It preserves as in a bright and deathless looking-glass the brightest and happiest years of our lives, — our school days. That is the reason for the existence of the 1928 Heights.”
Edward Sullivan ’28 served as the publication’s first editor, Charles Casassa ’28, later to become a Jesuit and president of Loyola University, was associate sports editor. and H. J. Haley, F. F. Collins and Fr. Harold Ring, SJ, served as moderators.
Music at SI
SI assembled one of its earliest orchestras in 1925 “composed of a small group of willing workers and talented musicians. Many new and difficult pieces were rendered in a manner that showed earnest and hard practice, and the organization merited the highest praise,” despite having to cope with “the lack of several instruments, which were so necessary for a balanced orchestra and for properly rendered selections.” The orchestra performed at assemblies, oratorical contests and debates under the direction of Mr. A. I. Mei, SJ, a member of the college faculty. Later the orchestra performed at First Friday assemblies while a separate student band played at football and basketball games. In 1926 students formed a boys’ choir under the direction of Mr. Paul Descout, SJ, to sing at the many liturgies, and a glee club, which sang at student assemblies.5
The Block Club
The Block Club began in 1925 “to unite all those who have received their awards for athletic prowess into an organization for the furthering of better observance of school spirit and stimulating athletic interest in the school.” Its first officers were Frank Hanlon, Walter Black, Frank Gehres, George Olson and Ulick Kelly; the group consisted of 21 members.
Speech & Debate
SI students took part in a number of oratorical and academic contests that would prepare them for college and for their careers. The big event of the year was the Gold Medal Debate, staged between the Senate (the Senior Debating Society) and the House (the Debating Society of the Junior Class). The victor of this contest received a gold medal, a gift from the Gentlemen’s Sodality of St. Ignatius Church. They also took part in a debate with students from Santa Clara (later to become Bellarmine College Preparatory), and vied for other academic awards including the Washington Essay Contest (with the winner receiving a trophy cup given for the best essay on the life of George Washington), the Freshman Elocution Contest (held at the Knights of Columbus Hall) and the Martin Latin Medal (the prize for the best paper in high school Latin).
Other contests included the Dramatic Arts Contest (an award for the best actor), the Outside Debate Team (which competed with other schools), the Loyalty Cup (given to the class “which has shown the most loyalty to the ideals of the school in student activity during the year”), the Museum Essay Contest (sponsored by the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum and won by Daniel Kelleher and George Olson in 1926) and the Senior Memorial Cup (an essay contest to commemorate two deceased members of the class). Other clubs included the Sanctuary Society and Sodality and the rally committees. Students also attended several dances, including the Senior Exclusive (“none but the mighty Senior was admitted”), the Block Club Dance, the Junior Prom, and the Senior Dance.
Along with these official activities were a few unofficial ones. The 1930 Heightsnotes that on October 25, 1929, a dozen “rascally” seniors “imbued with an overdose of school spirit … raided Sacred Heart today with a barrage of tomatoes prior to the football game. Unfortunately, their motives were not approved of by the authorities.”
The Pageant of Youth
In 1925, the Jesuits looked to another venue to help repay their debt: The Pageant of Youth — a lavish play involving 1,000 students from SI and other San Francisco Catholic schools, all under the direction of Fr. T.J. Flaherty, SJ, and written by Fr. Daniel Lord, SJ, a talented young Jesuit of the Missouri Province. Among the stars of Pageant of Youth was J. Preston Devine ’21, the uncle of former SI drama director and current English teacher Peter Devine ’66. Preston played the choicest role in the Pageant, that of the devil.
The Red and Blue of February 25, 1925, reported that “when the call for the students was sent out [to audition for the Pageant], the auditorium was filled with the volunteers, forcing the directors to limit the already great number and reserve many for future use.”
According to the 1925 Ignatian, the Pageant of Youth, which had five showings, was “a musical masque, heralded as the greatest religious, educational and dramatic production ever presented in San Francisco…. To accommodate the enormous number of participants, a special stage, 120 feet wide with a depth of 50 feet, the largest ever built in the Civic Auditorium, was constructed. To give a stage opening sufficient to frame the dancing groups and comprehend the magnitude of the lavish scenes and lighting effects, the arch was made 70 feet wide and 30 feet high. The rearranged Auditorium had a seating capacity of 6,000 with a perfect view of the stage for all.”
In 1927, SI formed the Senior Dramatic Society and presented George Cohan’sSeven Keys to Baldpate under the direction of Mr. Bart O’Neill, SJ, and Mr. Thomas Foster, with two performances at the Knights of Columbus Hall. A gushing reporter for the Ignatian had this to say about the performances of James Ludlow, Garret McEnerney, Frank Silva and Ralph Campiglia: “The players set a precedent which will demand every art from future aspirants to dramatic honors. It is doubtful if the performance will ever be surpassed at St. Ignatius.”
Two years later, Mr. Thomas Foster directed Right on the Button with a cast, for the first time, that went beyond seniors. Four juniors joined the typically all-senior cast and “a freshman [John McHugh] was chosen to play a juvenile role for which none suitable could be found in the upper division.”6
In 1926, SI seniors held a reception to honor their mothers in what was most likely the first mother-son dinner. The Ignatian of that year noted that “all semblance of formality was omitted and the meeting was a success as all present entered into the spirit of the occasion. Fr. President spoke in honor of the occasion and praised the efforts of the Seniors and…. implied his sanction for a Mother’s Club.” The following year, the Class of 1927 held a Fathers’ Night devoted “to the honor of that famous family institution, the Dad.” The February 9 reception featured a one-act sketch, a salutatory address and a talk by Father President “outlining the Jesuit ideals of education.”
One School Becomes Two
In the 1920s, both students and teachers felt ready to move to new quarters, as the “temporary” Shirt Factory never proved truly satisfactory. Around 1925, Miss Mary Horgan died, leaving the school $25,000 in her will. The Jesuits hoped to ask 300 individuals to donate $1,000 each to help SI begin construction of a new campus, the fifth and final one for the university and the penultimate one for the high school.
In an article in the St. Ignatius Church Calendar from July 1926, Fr. Ray Feely, SJ, encouraged parishioners to donate towards this effort by helping to support the training of Jesuits: “To one to whom the name ‘St. Ignatius College and High School’ carries no significance, it must be a difficult enigma to solve, why over a thousand lads should deliberately pass by the luxurious temples of learning scattered throughout San Francisco and should content themselves to spend the glamorous days of youth in such drab surroundings. The enigma deepens when one learns that these young men are paying for the privilege of attending school in ‘a refugee shack’ (a reference to the emergency shelters of the 1906 Earthquake), while a short distance away splendid buildings offer them an education free and without tuition (i.e., Lowell, Polytechnic and Washington). And all this in an age which values chiefly the superficial, whose standard is the extrinsic and not the intrinsic worth, which is more concerned with the tortoise shell frame than with the accuracy of the lens!
“The answer to this enigma is to be found in two words, ‘Jesuit Education….’ The point sought to be brought home here is that, in San Francisco as elsewhere, parents and boys alike desire instruction by Jesuit teachers, even if that education demands sacrifices both in the matter of finances and accommodations. The insistence of the people of San Francisco is so strong that dozens are turned away annually from St. Ignatius for lack of classroom space.”
Fr. Edward J. Whelan, SJ, the 15th person to serve as president of SI, spearheaded fund-raising for the new college campus (the beginnings of USF) shortly after taking office in 1925, and by 1926, he had raised $10,000, enough to give him hope for the rest. On December 10, 1926, the college celebrated the groundbreaking ceremony for the Liberal Arts building on Ignatian Heights, the name students used to describe the hilltop campus site adjacent to St. Ignatius Church. Among those who spoke that day were Fr. Whelan, Mayor “Sunny Jim” Rolph, Msgr. Michael Connolly of St. Paul’s Parish (Archbishop Edward J. Hanna’s representative), and Frank Hughes ’83, president of the SI Alumni Association.
The new college building (Campion Hall) opened on October 9, 1927, after being blessed by Archbishop Hanna, and student enrollment finally began to increase. That slow growth inspired the college to change its name once again, this time to the University of San Francisco. However, not until the end of World War II and the introduction of the GI Bill did USF’s enrollment start to skyrocket, making it one of the premier universities on the West Coast and the next step in formal education for many SI graduates.
Between 1927 and 1929, SI high school students studied at the Shirt Factory awaiting their own new campus. Barrett & Hilp, the construction firm that built Campion Hall, began work on September 11, 1928, on the Stanyan Street campus, located between McAllister and Turk Streets. Designed by Edward F. Eames along “classical lines,” the new high school would be in “harmony with the church, the faculty building and the college building.”7 According to the St. Ignatius Church Calendar of 1928, planning for the new school involved a careful study “of the plans of schools throughout the country,” and visits with “more modern ones in Northern California.”
The article described the many state-of-the-art features of the new school: “The building has been designed to accommodate one thousand students and will contain, besides the regular business and administration offices, thirty-five classrooms, physics and chemistry laboratories, mechanical and free-hand drawing departments, library, assembly hall, chapel, cafeteria, co-operative store and book store, band room, winter play room and gymnasium.8
“The gymnasium will be the finest in Northern California and one of the finest in the country. In it will be located some seven hundred lockers, besides showers, dressing rooms for visiting teams and coaches’ rooms. The main floor will be 60 by 102 feet in the clear, and rising from that will be the grandstands with accommodations for 1,500 spectators.” (The school, however, would not muster enough funds to build this gymnasium until the 1950s.)
“The high school will have a frontage of 264 feet on Stanyan Street and 75 feet on Turk Street, and the gymnasium, south of the high school building, will have 130 feet on Turk Street and 104 on Stanyan.”
The football field next to the school featured an 8-lane crushed-granite track and wooden bleachers on the east side of the field. It was known as SI Field and later, after the high school moved to the Sunset District, as Loyola Field and then as Negoesco Stadium. (The field now offers stadium lights, seating for 5,000, a concession stand and a pressbox — a far cry from the windswept plain where SI teams battled for 40 years.)
Construction took a year, and the Stanyan Street campus opened August 19, 1929. The Calendar extolled its beauty then, noting that the lobby “is done in Sienna marble, the walls being in imitation travertine.” It touted the library, which had “accommodations for 10,000 volumes and for 100 students. It is done in the mission style, the woodwork in oak. An Assembly Hall adjoins the Library, a delicately done thing with beamed ceiling, in a grayish color, the drapes for the windows and stage in green.”
The article noted the layout of the building, with offices for the principal, vice principal, spiritual director, student body and athletic departments on the first floor along with seven classrooms. The second floor held 15 classrooms, with an addition 12 on the third level. “The Physics and Chemistry Departments, modern and up to the minute in every way, are located on the third floor, and next to them are two drawing rooms, one for mechanical drawing, the other for free-hand drawing.
“The gem of the entire building is the chapel, the entrance to which is on the second floor, but which occupies the space of two floors. It has a gallery, which is entered from the third floor. The harmony of the Chapel, the delicately colored walls, the graceful arches over the windows, the symbolism of the ornaments, all point to it as being something quite distinctive in a Chapel design. But the crowning point of the chapel is the Altar, designed entirely by Mr. Edward Eames….
“In the basement, which is completely above ground, are found the Student’s Co-operative Store, the Book Store, the Assembly Room and Library of the Gentlemen’s Sodality, a huge winter playground, a Cafeteria completely modern in every detail, the athletic locker and dressing rooms, and the Boiler Room.
“The extensive playgrounds outside of the building contain four basketball courts, three handball courts and a tennis court. And just east is the Athletic Field, which will be used both by the College and High School. The field has been thoroughly graded and planted in grass; in length it is 534 feet, and in width 200 feet. The turf field is encircled by a quarter-mile running track, which has been designed and laid out in accordance with every requirement and is one of the very best tracks in California.”
The article concluded with praise for the state-of-the-art public address system “which the principal from his desk can address the students in any particular classroom, or in all the classrooms at once. By means of the loud speaker attachment in all of the rooms connection may be made…. Thus a notice, instead of being sent around by word of mouth to the thirty-five classrooms and consuming a great deal of time, can be delivered simultaneously to all of the classes at the expense of just a few moments of time.” The PA also allowed for radio hookups. “Thus if a message should be on the air that would be of great educational advantage to the group studying American History, for instance, or Civics, or Chemistry, that message can be directed to those particular classes. The possibilities of the Public Address System are very great and far-reaching indeed.”
Students leaving the Shirt Factory to study on Stanyan Street felt as if they were walking into the Taj Mahal. This landmark school would serve more than 10,000 Ignatians over the next 40 years until 1969 when SI moved to its sixth campus, located in the Sunset District.
James D. Phelan
One generous gift of $100,000 made the Stanyan Street campus possible and paid for nearly a third of the $342,000 construction cost of the school. The donor was former U.S. Senator James D. Phelan, considered by many to be “the foremost citizen of California.”9
Phelan, who received his A.B. degree in 1881, was one of SI’s most famous graduates. Of Phelan's early days, an 1878 story in the Monitor reports the following: “We attended the literary entertainment … on last Monday evening. The College Hall, where it took place, was well crowded, and a highly appreciative audience manifested great interest in the proceedings. The principal feature of the entertainment consisted in a debate on the question, ‘Has every male adult a right to vote?’ and the arguments advanced by the young debaters were very ably and forcibly put. Where all were so excellent, it may be invidious to single out any individual, but the natural, self-possessed and eloquent delivery of Master James D. Phelan elicited general commendation.”10
Phelan aspired to a literary career, but his father — an Irish immigrant who made his fortune as a trader, banker and merchant shortly after the Gold Rush — convinced him to join the family business in real estate and banking. In his role as businessman, he doubled his family’s assets. According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, Phelan was “San Francisco’s greatest host after the death of banker William Ralston [and]… the city’s most eligible bachelor who financed California playwrights, artists and sculptors, filling [his Saratoga home Villa] Montalvo with their creations.”11
Later, Phelan would serve as San Francisco mayor (1896–1902) where he worked to reform City Hall, improve the economy and pass a new city charter that led to the creation of elected supervisors. He was also California’s first popularly elected senator. The Jesuits showed their gratitude to Phelan in 1905 by granting him an honorary degree of Doctor of Law. On the day of the 1906 earthquake, Mayor Eugene Schmitz appointed Phelan head of the relief committee for those made homeless by the fire. The Jesuits paid their final tribute by naming USF’s Phelan Hall residential dormitory for him in 1955.
Despite his accomplishments, Phelan remains a controversial figure in city history due to his support of the Chinese Exclusion Act, which drastically reduced the number of immigrants coming from China. After the San Francisco Earthquake, Phelan hoped to relocate the city’s Chinese population to Hunter’s Point to remove them from the center of the city, and he also warned against the growing influx of Japanese immigrants. Phelan’s anti-Asian politics may have been typical for his times, but as USF President Stephen Privett, SJ, noted, Phelan’s “explosively rhetorical expressions of exclusionary sentiments have all the appeal to modern ears of fingernails scraping down a blackboard.”12
After Phelan died on August 7, 1930, at his country home near Saratoga, his remains lay in state at City Hall for three days. A funeral Mass followed, the “largest and most imposing funeral ever seen in San Francisco,” on August 11 at St. Ignatius Church attended by California Governor Clement C. Young, Mayor Rolph, and U.S. Senator Samuel D. Shortridge. The Jesuits named nearly 100 honorary pallbearers for this graduate of SI who made possible the construction of the high school’s fifth home.13
Enrollment Rises as the Old School Falls
In the years before the Depression, enrollment at the high school climbed steadily. In 1909, the high school held 198 students. By the fall of 1922, high school enrollment topped 500 for the first time in the school’s history and climbed to 852 in 1931–32. The following year, enrollment fell to 680, but by the mid 1930s, the numbers had recovered somewhat to “considerably above the 700 mark.”14
The stock market wasn’t the only thing to come crashing down in 1929. That same year the Shirt Factory was demolished. An editorial in the September 19 edition of The Red and Blue waxed eloquently on this demise: “…we don’t forget our athletic ups and downs, our literary, forensic and thespian activities there. A building does not make a school: it is the student body that classifies it. So when you see apartment houses on the south side of Hayes Street opposite St. Mary’s Hospital, just remember that all the spirit and loyalty has moved up a block or so, and that the students of the new St. Ignatius High School are even more interested and enthusiastic for bigger and better accomplishments for their new school.” In the November 15 edition, as the demolition progressed, The Red and Blue struck a lighter tone: “We bid you goodbye, school of cold winters and JUG all the time. The rambling shack of wood is now a gigantic pile of toothpicks.” The paper made no mention of another great demolition — that of the stock market — which occurred two weeks earlier.
Jack O’Dea ’28
Jack O’Dea ’28, a longtime supporter of SI who, at the time of this writing, still attends many SI events, recalls performing as a devilish imp in the Pageant of Youth in his freshman year at SI. The plot revolved around the devil tempting a youth, and the youth successfully resisting. “In addition to being a lot of fun, it was a great place for high school boys and girls to meet. Many students paired off, thanks to the Pageant.”
O’Dea also recalls his one algebra teacher at SI who made a big impression on him: David O’Keefe. As a college student at SI, O’Keefe played on the varsity baseball team that took on the Chicago White Sox and nearly won. “As a baseball legend, he inspired fear in us. All he had to do was turn around and look at you and you burned.” O’Dea also notes that over the years he has met “so many people who say they played on the team, that it’s no wonder they almost won. They must have had outfielders all over the place.”
The entire student body, as in years past and years to come, celebrated First Friday Mass together at St. Ignatius Church. (This tradition ended with the move to the Sunset District campus.) O’Dea recalls that afterwards, Fr. Whelan would announce the class awards for the month. As a freshman, O’Dea won the Latin Medal one month for having top marks in his class. Later, back in class, O’Dea listened attentively as his Latin teacher told him, “You fooled me this month O’Dea, but as long as I live, you will never get another medal!”
O’Dea won the Gold Medal Debate in his senior year and led SI in debate against Lowell and Santa Clara. The debates were taken so seriously that Fr. Whelan, the principal, wouldn’t let Charlie Casassa (who would join the order after high school and later become president of Loyola University in Los Angeles) or O’Dea play basketball for the 145-pound squad against Polytechnic High School because they had a debate that night.
The scores were never high for the games, O’Dea said. “We beat Poly 3–0 in football when Vin Casey dropped-kicked a field goal. We also beat SH that year, though we were never very good. We would always sit together in the rooting section. Fr. Whelan said at one game that he was astounded to see 250 students in the rooting section at Ewing Field (north of the former Presentation High School) even though the school had only sold 25 tickets. It was a pretty high fence to climb, but we made it!” He also recalled the SI baseball team winning the AAA in 1927 with a 3–0 record, coached by Lorenzo Malone, SJ.
The Class of ’28 also entertained themselves in other ways. During their lunch break, members of the class would play softball in the enclosed yard behind the school. Toward the back of the field was a shed with a row of toilet stalls with doors that didn’t quite reach the ground. “We posted two outfielders on the roof of that shed,” said O’Dea, “and one outfielder on the steps leading to the classrooms. Sometimes a ball would be hit and roll under a stall in the outfield. Without a ‘by your leave,’ an outfielder would kick open the door, regardless of who might be in there, get the ball, and throw it back into play.”
O’Dea adds that his four years at SI, from 1924–28, “were the greatest years of my life. We had such camaraderie. At one time there were 700 people in the school, and we knew everyone. I remember one holiday when we all came back to school because we enjoyed being there.”
Fourteen of O’Dea’s classmates entered the priesthood that year, with most joining the Society of Jesus. Those large numbers were typical of the time, spurred, in part, by active recruiting among the Jesuits and by the example of the young scholastics. O’Dea recalls the Jesuits taking students out of class to interview them to see if they had an interest in joining. “They never called me out to be interviewed. They called me out for other reasons, though!” His good friend Charles Casassa was one of those interviewed who did join the Society after leaving SI.
O’Dea, 92 at the time of the interview, graduated with a BA and law degree from USF and became an attorney. He sent his sons — John Francis O’Dea Jr. ’76 and Thomas Martin O’Dea ’79 — and his grandson, Ryan O’Dea ’07, to SI. He retired at 82 and is still an active member of the SI alumni association, attending the downtown business lunch and the annual golf and tennis tournament and all-class reunion each June.
Ken Atwell ’29
Ken Atwell ’29 recalls the nuns in grammar school warning students that they had a choice: either be good students and go to SI or be bad students and end up at reform school.
Atwell also recalls one SI teacher who always wore a black three-piece suit. “He was renowned for his aim. If he had his back to us while writing on the blackboard and heard us talking, he would turn around and throw his chalk, hitting the offender every time.”
On another occasion, while sitting in JUG (Justice Under God), the students grew a bit rowdy while memorizing a page of Latin as punishment. The prefect of discipline, Fr. Harold E. Ring, SJ, saw them through the window from his office and raced to the classroom. “He slammed the door open, took one kid’s neck in his hands, and slammed him against a blackboard. That quieted us down.”
Not all the teachers were tough, though seemingly they had to be to survive. One scholastic made the mistake of treating his young charges as gentlemen. One day, while closing a double-hung window, the ropes broke that held the balancing weights, and the window slammed down on his fingers, trapping him there. “The students debated whether to help him or to leave him there,” said Atwell. “We eventually lifted it off his fingers, but he wasn’t too happy with us.”
Atwell remembers the students sitting on the steps outside the school, chewing tobacco, holding spitting contests and memorizing lessons for homework. “The quality of education wasn’t quite up to today’s level,” he noted.
After graduating from SI and attending St. Ignatius College for a year, Atwell continued his education at UC Berkeley and in Utah. He eventually started a successful commercial construction business before moving to Idaho. He died December 21, 2004, at the age of 92, leaving SI $1 million in his will.
Tom Brady ’31
Tom Brady ’31, father of Kevin Brady ’68, transferred to SI in 1928 after his freshman year when his family moved from Seattle. He was not happy to learn that his sophomore year would begin August 16, three weeks earlier than in Seattle. “I felt cheated to have my summer cut short,” he noted in a 2004 interview. He felt even more cheated when he walked into the ramshackle Shirt Factory, but it took him no time at all to fit in. He joined the Sanctuary Society, moderated by Mr. William Huesman, SJ, who made it one of the most sought-after clubs to join by leading students on hikes in Muir Woods and taking them for outings on the bay to Paradise Cove on a tug boat lent by the father of one of the students.
At lunch and at recess, students played all kinds of games, including football. Brady recalls one large senior, Willie Kennedy, who tossed a football that landed in one of the latrines stationed at the south end of the play area. He also recalls eating Mexican food for the first time in his life — “They didn’t have Mexican food in Seattle when I was growing up” — and one food fight that ensued, involving tacos and tamales.
The old school featured handball courts that were built in the interior of the old church (after it had moved to Fulton and Parker). “But even then, there were only three or four courts for the whole school, so we played handball on the old rectory wall. It was only 15 feet wide, so we had to learn to keep our eye on the ball and catch it as it bounced off the back wall.
He took a job working for the Jesuits as a receptionist at Welch Hall and, the following year, at the new school on Stanyan Street, working for the school in a student-run co-op, where he sold candy, cookies, root beer, pineapple juic, watch fobs and pins with the SI insignia. He thought the new school resembled “a palace, with wide halls and lockers up and down the corridor. I knew I wasn’t in heaven because we still had class, but it was close.”
The new building featured a giant furnace in the basement (which was actually at street level), and as co-op worker (and later manager), he befriended the school janitor, James Aubry McCulley, who lived on campus in one of two rooms in the basement. One of McCulley’s jobs was to make a home brew for the Jesuits and to clean up the priests’ Villa at Clear Lake. Brady would sometimes accompany McCulley on these trips to help with the clean up.
He was surprised to see women working in the office at the new school, though he recalls only two — an assistant registrar and a receptionist/secretary.
For his graduation, Brady was disappointed to learn that he would have to go through two ceremonies, one just for SI students and another, by order of the Archbishop, for all Catholic San Francisco high school students at Dreamland (later called Winterland). “It just meant we had to take our Sunday-going-to-meeting suit out one more time.”
At SI, Brady found himself impressed with the Jesuits he met — Fr. Charles F. Carroll, SJ, who had been his parish priest in Seattle and who came to SI to teach, Fr. Ed Whelan, SJ, and his brother Fr. Al Whelan, SJ, and Mr. William Huesman, SJ, who inspired many young men to join the order, including Brady. He was one of 17 from his class to join the Society of Jesus, and he stayed in the order for more than 12 years, leaving just six months shy of ordination. He eventually attended law school and became an administrative judge for the Assessment Appeals Board.