Monday, July 22 2024

“Unless something is done a generation of children will grow up without any Catholic education.” Archbishop John Cantwell 

The educational tradition of the RSHM and Marymount is rooted in Father Jean Gailhac’s vision, “that all may have life, life to the full,” and that education is a means of transforming society.

In response to the request of Bishop John J. Cantwell of Los Angeles, Mother Joseph Butler RSHM founded Marymount in the West. Five sisters made the arduous cross-country journey from New York to establish this new mission. Arriving in Los Angeles, they were welcomed and given hospitality by the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters. 

Marymount School, Los Angeles opened in September 1923 at 814 W. 28 Street, Los Angeles, with five students. With steadily increasing numbers and taking on boarders, plans were made for the needs of a growing student population. Under Mother Butler’s direction, the RSHM undertook the task of finding a new location which would fulfill the needs, not merely of the present, but into the future.

Conscious of the abiding traditions of Marymount, the Junior and High Schools students, in 1928 celebrated May Day, staged French plays and music recitals. The student body advanced in wisdom, age, grace, and numbers.  



In July 1922, Reverend Mother Joseph Butler, who served as the Superior Vicar of the Convents in North America and resided at Marymount School in Tarrytown, New York, received a letter from Bishop (later Archbishop) John Cantwell of the Los Angeles diocese in California. In his letter, he extended an invitation to her to visit Los Angeles and explore the possibility of establishing a school akin to the one in Tarrytown. Upon receiving this invitation, Mother Saint Constance, the Superior General of the Institute, advised Mother Butler to accept the opportunity.

In August 1922, Reverend Mother Joseph (seated) and her Assistant, Mother Gerard, embarked on their journey to Los Angeles. Upon their arrival at the station, they were warmly welcomed by Mother Redempta, who served as the Superior of the Immaculate Heart Sisters, and Sister Teresa Corea, a relative of Mother Ursula from Tarrytown. The sisters graciously hosted them for a week.

During their stay, Bishop Cantwell made arrangements for them to visit other Convent Schools within his diocese. This allowed them to gain firsthand insights into the educational requirements and the school system of the diocese. Additionally, Monsignor James Cantwell and his brother, Father William Cantwell, acted as their guides, showcasing the historical and picturesque attractions of the enchanting city.

Following their visit to Los Angeles, Mother Catherine, the Provincial of the Sisters of St. Joseph, kindly hosted them in San Diego. Their experiences during this trip left them greatly impressed, and they enthusiastically conveyed to Bishop Cantwell their desire to encourage their Superior General to establish a school within the diocese.

In the final week of August, they journeyed to Santa Barbara Old Mission and then to San Francisco, where they resided at St. Mary’s Hospital. Returning to New York, their hearts were filled with zeal to expand their apostolic mission to educate girls in the captivating and beautiful land of California.

In January 1923, Bishop Cantwell informed Mother Butler about a promising house and location for the envisioned school. Reverend Mother Joseph Butler and Mother Gerard, on behalf of Mother General Saint Constance, were dispatched once more to California. After inspecting the property, they were pleased with its suitability and agreed to purchase it at the price requested by the owner, Mr. J. Brockman. This location, situated in the upscale West Adams district, was home to both downtown businessmen and professors from the nearby University of Southern California. It was precisely at 814 West 28th Street and University Avenue.

On the school’s inaugural day, which fell on the twenty-fourth of September, there were only five applicants: Katherine, Marian, and Marjorie Keller, Barbara Mott, and Josephine Maury. The following day, Dorothy Duque joined Barbara Mott as a first-grader. By January, the student count had grown to twelve, with Alice Quarles being one of the newcomers. Interestingly, Alice’s mother had received her education from the Sacred Heart of Mary nuns in Lisburn, Ireland.

The teaching staff had been increased by Mother Rose de Lima Kiernan, Mother Francoise O’Hare, and Mother Aidan Keating, all from Tarrytown, and four secular teachers, among whom was Miss Annette Ines who received her Ph.D. from John Hopkin’s University.

Each school year was filled with vibrant activities, including, first communions, speech contests, equestrian, dramatic scenes from Shakespearean plays, lively May festivals, sports, and captivating piano recitals.

The students participated in a May crowning. In May crowning ceremonies, a statue or image of Mary is traditionally crowned with wreaths of flowers, roses if possible, which not only symbolize the freshly blooming spring season, but also have roots in bridal wreaths.

In June 1925, a significant milestone was reached as the school held its inaugural graduation exercises. His Excellency, Bishop Cantwell, had the honor of presiding over the ceremony and bestowed High School diplomas upon Katherine and Marian Keller and Christine Koch.

“Those first few years were pioneer ones—it rested with the students, under the kind guidance of the faculty; to establish and maintain a high scholastic standard, to generate interest in athletics and, above all, to make the outsider understand that the students of Marymount were appreciative of the religious and cultural values that made them outstanding” 

– Marjorie Keller ’28 The Mariange

In June 1928, a significant moment arrived as the “big four,” consisting of Marjorie Keller, Helen McGarry, Margaret Redman, and Marie Walsh, graduated from Marymount after attending the school for four consecutive years. Marjorie, in particular, had the distinction of being a charter member, having completed the eighth grade at Marymount in 1925. Following her graduation, she continued her education at U.C.L.A., ultimately earning her B.A. degree in 1932.

Marymount School, Los Angeles: 28th Street “Graduation Day in The West” Consisting of the big four, Marjorie Keller, Helen McGarry, Margaret Redman, and Marie Walsh.

Marymount School, Los Angeles 28th Street Graduation 1928

In 1928, Reverend Mother Joseph Butler, who had since become the Superior General, made a visit to Los Angeles along with Mother Gerard. She was delighted to find that the number of pupils had grown to sixty. During her visit, she recommended that the nuns explore the possibility of acquiring land for the construction of a school and convent.

His Excellency Bishop Cantwell also provided guidance, proposing the purchase of land in the West Los Angeles area. In February 1929, Mr. W. Thorpe, representing the Janss Real Estate Company, identified a six-acre plot adjacent to the Bel-Air Estates, which seemed to be a suitable location for their plans.

School Activities June, 1929. Consisting of Shakespearean plays, speech performances, dance and piano recitals.

Marymount School, Los Angeles 28th Street – Activities June, 1929

In October of that same year, the New York Stock Market experienced a significant crash. Interestingly, despite the economic turmoil, the school’s attendance remained unaffected, prompting the school to move forward with plans for the new building.

For this project, architects Mr. Ross Montgomery and Mr. William Mullay were chosen. They presented several design sketches, which were then sent to Reverend Mother General for consideration. However, she advised that the Bishop and his building committee’s recommendations be followed.

After several months of careful deliberation, Mother Butler decided to seek additional input. In July 1930, she sent Mother Xavier Toomey, who had experience in construction, to provide suggestions for the project.

Groundbreaking for the new construction project took place in March 1930, and the ceremony was marked by a solemn blessing. Participants in this modest event included Monsignor J. Cawley and Father W. Kelly, with Father Kelly being one of his assistants at St. Vibiana’s Cathedral. Also in attendance were Mother Cecilia Rafter and Mother Gertrude Cain.

At that time, the Bel-Air property had very few homes, and the landscape was relatively undeveloped. Westwood Village, part of the U.C.L.A. campus, consisted mainly of Janss Drug Store and a handful of other shops.

The house and grounds on twenty-eighth street were placed on sale, but the economic impact of the Great Depression, which had started in 1929, had begun to affect Los Angeles. Money was scarce, taxes were rising, and potential buyers were few and far between. The real estate boom had come to a halt.

During this challenging period, a group of fraternity men from the University of Southern California rented the property. It wasn’t until 1940 that a Marymount graduate, Katherine Alfs, who was also a student at U.S.C., succeeded in piquing the interest of her sorority, Delta Delta Gamma, in the property. Eventually, they purchased the land, marking a new chapter in its history.

Marymount Los Angeles, May Crowning Ceremonies 1930 & 1931

In May crowning ceremonies, a statue or image of Mary is traditionally crowned with wreaths of flowers, and roses, which symbolize the freshly blooming Spring season.

Marymount Los Angeles, May Day 1930 & 1931