The Primitive Constitution of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet states that the Congregation is dedicated to “the practice of all the spiritual and corporal works of mercy of which a woman is capable and which will benefit the… dear neighbor.” Those works of mercy were brought to San Diego in 1882 when four Sisters of St. Joseph arrived on board the steamship Ancon and founded the Academy of Our Lady of Peace. The Sisters arrived at the behest of Father Antonio Ubach, who had been petitioning the Sisters since 1870 to establish a school in San Diego.
The 138 years of OLP’s presence in San Diego have been replete with a tradition of educational excellence. Currently, this education excellence is fostered by a college-preparatory liberal arts curriculum, which annually sees 100% of the graduating class pursuing higher education. OLP’s philosophy incorporates the ideals of developing young women in six specific areas: spiritual and moral; intellectual; aesthetic; physical; psychological; social. A challenging college preparatory liberal arts program and enrichment activities play major parts in accomplishing some of these goals, but Religious Studies and a curriculum-wide emphasis on Peace & Justice issues are considered fundamental in providing an important “education of the heart.”
The Sisters of St. Joseph and the Early Years of the Academy
The San Diego of 1882 was a burgeoning mining town and seaport with few of the amenities with which we view the city today. Alonzo Horton held a vision of San Diego that he was working mightily to achieve, the San Diego Telephone Company opened operations in 1882 and the public library also was opened that year. There would be no modern fire department for seven more years; Kate Sessions had yet to arrive from San Francisco to teach at Russ School; no mayor was in office, rather, a Board of Trustees governed the populous of the city numbering under 3,000.
Notable in 1882 for OLP, however, as the arrival of four Sisters of ST. Joseph of Carondelet who arrived in San Diego on April 8, 1882, rented a local house located at Second and G Streets for $15 per month and began preparations for their school. The new school was designated as the Academy of Our Lady of Peace by Reverend Mother Agatha Guthrie and it was opened on May 10, 1882. In attendance were 28 girls and 2 boys.
Mass was first celebrated by Father Antonio Dominic Ubach in the tiny chapel on June 13, 1882, the feast day of St. Anthony, the priest’s patron saint. Mass would be held in this chapel twice weekly for the Sisters. It was Father Ubach who had spent 12 years in petitioning the Sisters to send a delegation from the Congregation to being a school in San Diego. The arrival of the Sisters and the opening of the Academy were a culmination of his prayers and travels to Carondelet, Missouri to petition Reverend Mother Agatha personally.
The success of the Sisters’ early school is well documented. Within two years of opening the school, the Sisters purchased property in the southwest corner of Third and A in an area known as Horton’s Addition, and in 1887, when a new school building was erected, the Academy moved to that location. Mother Valeria Bradshaw became the Superior when the Sisters moved to the new location. The Academy was situated in the present-day downtown area until the early 1920s.
New Beginnings on Oregon Street
The expansion of San Diego prompted the Sisters to seek new property. The Sisters, under the leadership of Sister St. Catherine, who had returned in 1923 as the Superior, began a search for property location appropriate for another move. Property in the Mission Hills area near Sunset was their first choice, but in September, 1924, property at Copley Street and Oregon Street overlooking Mission Valley became available through the Southern Trust Company. The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet then began legal proceedings to acquire the property at Collier’s Point.
The acquisition of the Van Druff Estate was not quickly accomplished. The acrimonious remarks and adamant opposition of an anonymous San Diegan caused a brief delay in the Sisters’ assumption of the property. After a night spent in prayer, however, the Sisters were able to obtain the property and on January 25, 1924, the San Diego Union announced the sale of the Van Druff estate to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. The property was purchased for $77,500.
At the tine of its purchase, the Van Druff Estate consisted of only three buildings. The Sisters realized that those buildings would be inadequate facilities for the students who attended Villa Montemar (“House by the Sea”), the Academy’s sobriquet. Plans were begun to expand the school’s capacity, and toward that end, construction began on three new buildings in 1924 and was completed in 1927.
The Sisters hired San Diego architect I.E. Loveless to design the three additional buildings need to accommodate the school population. The buildings were designed in an Italian Renaissance style in keeping with the architecture of existing buildings. The San Diego contracting firm of Lowerison and Wolstencroft was charged with the building construction
The first building, called Aquinas Hall, contained classroom space for both the 250 grammar school and high school students. Its budgeted cost was $74,000. Governed by a separate principal, the population of elementary school students exceeded high school enrollment in the early years of the Academy. The grammar school girls participated in all the activities of the school. With the growth of the K-8 parochial school system in San Diego, the need for the grammar school gradually diminished over the years. The class of 1966 was the last class to graduate students who started OLP as kindergarteners.
The second building, St. Margaret’s Hall, was originally utilized as a dormitory for boarders and built at a cost of $50,000. When the dormitory opened, the students who roomed in St. Margaret’s paid $125 per year for a private room. Following the close of the dorm in 1973, the upper floors of the building were rarely used. The basement floor remained in use as a gymnasium. The building, renamed Qualiato Hall in 1994 after the parents of the major donor, currently houses seven classrooms and the faculty room. The basement floor of Qualiato functions as the Dance Studio.
The crown jewel of the Academy is the chapel. Site of innumerable Masses, student liturgies, alumnae weddings and baptisms of alumnae children, it was construction for $24,000. The pews are solid mahogany and the choir loft boasts a built in pipe organ console. Artisans visited San Diego five times to measure the space under the arched ceiling for the altar. The measurements were sent to Italy where the altar was hand carved of pure Carrera marble. Relics of St. Tranquillini and St. Blas II were placed in the altar.