St. Vincent School has its roots deep in Vincentian tradition. This tradition dates before Vincentian missionaries came to the United States in 1816 and arrived in Los Angeles in 1855. The story begins with the birth of St. Vincent de Paul in France on April 24, 1581. As a member of a peasant family, Vincent experienced the conditions under which the poor lived. In 1600, he became a priest and sought to escape from the poverty of his origins by socializing with French high society. However, with the help of spiritual directors, he felt himself called to deeper holiness and was led by Divine Providence to dedicate himself to the salvation of the poor. Vincent founded three groups for this purpose: the Ladies of Charity (in 1617), who attended to the spiritual and physical needs of the sick and the poor; the Congregation of the Mission (Vincentians) (in 1623), who were either priests or brothers who preached the good news of salvation to the poor; and – with St. Louise de Marillac – the Daughters of Charity (in 1633), who served the poor as their Lord and Masters. Vincent died in 1660 and was canonized in 1737.
It is this rich history that influenced Bishop Thaddeus Amat, C.M. to establish St. Vincent College in Los Angeles. This college, which was Southern California’s first institution of higher learning, later became Loyola Marymount University. It was briefly located at 7th Street and Broadway (what is now the St. Vincent Jewelry Mart). It then moved to the corner of Washington Boulevard and Grand Avenue. During this time, people began to gather in the college chapel for Sunday Mass. This chapel later became the basis for St. Vincent Parish, the third parish founded in the city of Los Angeles.
By 1907, the population of the city had greatly increased and the people of St. Vincent Parish needed a new church. Mr. and Mrs. Edward Doheny donated funds to help finance the project, and in 1922, construction on the new church began. The first Eucharist was celebrated on April 25, 1925 in the “New St. Vincent Church” at the corner of Adams and Figueroa. Santo Nino Chapel, located at 23rd and Trinity streets, became a mission church of the parish in 1945.
Amid all the activity of the parish becoming established and the construction of the chapels and church, the beginning of St. Vincent School was well underway. Father Aloysius J. Meyer, C.M., the first pastor of St. Vincent Parish, had long insisted there be a school for the children. As he and the Vincentians saw more institutions of higher learning opening in Los Angeles, including the University of Southern California (USC) in 1889, they realized that their parish children were being neglected.
In 1889, Father Meyer had written a letter to Mother Agatha, Superior General of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, urging the Sisters of St. Joseph to help staff a parish school.
22 years after Father Meyer wrote to Sister Agatha to request help, Father’s dream of a parish school seemed to be materializing. In 1911, the younger children of the parish finally had the opportunity to receive an elementary education. The Sisters of St. Joseph opened St. Vincent Parish School in the lovely buildings of St. Vincent College at Washington Boulevard and Grand Avenue. (The Vincentian Fathers had recently closed St. Vincent College and had sold its charter to the Jesuits.) Sister Victoria Kelly, C.S.J. was the first Principal of St. Vincent School; and Father Joseph Glass, C.M., later Bishop of Salt Lake City, was pastor at the time.
St. Vincent Parish School moved twice after being established in its original location. The first move, in 1923, was to Flower and Adams Streets – one block east of what was to be the new St. Vincent Church. Sr. Mary Clementine Slattery, C.S.J. was in charge of the school at this time.
The school was a class “A” construction building, a two-story reinforced concrete structure with brick facing. The structure had nine classrooms, an office, an auditorium, and a large playground, which was enlarged twice in later years. Many clergy, sisters, and city officials were present at the laying of the cornerstone of the new school. His Excellency, Archbishop John J. Cantwell presided at this memorable event. The Hon. Isidore Dockweiler was the principal speaker.
In 1951, the state Highway Department proposed building the Harbor Freeway through the school area. At first, it was to run west of Chester Place and through USC fraternity row. But, through politics, this was dropped. Eventually, the Chancery Office approved the plan to condemn the St. Vincent convent, school and playground.
In the summer of 1951, the Chancery Office purchased property at 2325-2345 South Figueroa Street. And on March 6, 1953, the Chancery Office gave approval to engaging Montgomery and Mullans as architects and J.A. McNeil Company as contractors for the new building.
Cardinal McIntyre assured the Highway Department they could have the old St. Vincent School grounds by the middle of November, and in turn asked the contractors if they could help him keep his promise. The school was built in four and a half months, establishing an all-time record for such a type of building. It was blessed in the late spring of 1954 by Cardinal McIntyre.
The second school building and convent were torn down, and the “freeway orphans” moved into the third school building. Sister Daniel Joseph, C.S.J. walked the children from one side of the freeway to the other. Parish and school life grew with the changing sites and changing times.
Occupied since the spring of 1954, the third and present school consists of nine classrooms, a library, two office areas, a kitchen, cafeteria, auditorium, computer lab and tutoring space.
In the 1970’s, a Los Angeles Unified School District Title I bungalow was erected on the school campus. In 1987, a new room was needed to house the Writing to Read (WTR) computer lab. Because there was no space to build a new room, a section of the cafeteria was portioned off for the WTR lab. The Writing to Read program was discontinued during the 2005-2006 school year. During that year, the space was converted into a computer lab under the Futurekids©, now Edtechtrain, LLC program.
In 1995, St. Vincent Parish and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles constructed a building on the school property. The building, St. Vincent Center, was completed in 1996. It was leased to USC for a Head Start program on the first floor and to Esperanza Community Housing Corporation for office space on the second floor. The religious education director, parish liturgy coordinator, inclusion teacher, school counselors, and speech therapist also shared rooms on the first floor.
In the summer of 2007, the USC-sponsored Head Start relocated, providing much-needed space for the school’s expansion. In August of 2007, the Kindergarten moved to the St. Vincent Center. This relocation provided space for a school library, office, and tutoring room on the second floor of the school’s main building.
When St. Vincent School was built, the neighborhood was upper-middle class and wealthy. Gradually, the more affluent families moved to the suburbs, and the demographic changed. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, many families immigrated to this area from Mexico and Central American to escape war and governmental pressure. They found work in the garment district and hotels. USC also provided a variety of jobs for families who moved to the area.
The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet staffed St. Vincent School from its opening in 1911 until 1987. From 1987 until 1996, the school was under the direction of four lay principals. In 1997, the administration of the school was transferred to the community of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. The Daughters of Charity remain as the school’s administers to this day.
St. Vincent School marked its 100th anniversary with a series of celebrations throughout the 2011-2012 school year. The school community recalled everyone who has contributed to the school’s rich history of education and service, and honored the excellent tradition that the Sisters of St. Joseph established and the current faculty, staff, and administration carry on today.
St. Vincent School’s successes and history are a result of the Daughters of Charity standing on the stable shoulders of the Sisters of St. Joseph, and reaping the fruits of the seeds that the Sisters of St. Joseph sewed.
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