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At 75th anniversary, St. Mary Magdalen School cultivates a growth mindset

SAN ANTONIO • St. Mary Magdalen School celebrated its 75th anniversary with a Mass at the parish and a 2020 Vision Gala at the La Cantera Resort on Oct. 28. Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, MSpS, was the presider at the liturgy, which was surrounded by a weekend of festivities on Friday — the Maverick Mixer -— and Sunday, a Family Fun Fest.
The parish of Saint Mary Magdalen was founded on January 1, 1940, with Father James M. Boyle as its first pastor. The territory was taken from St. Ann’s jurisdiction — the parish to its immediate south.

In 1942, a five-room frame residence was purchased from St. Ann’s and moved on to the property. It was in this building that the first St. Mary Magdalen School (SMMS) opened in 1942 with Incarnate Word Sister Mary Patricia as the first principal. The school had an enrollment of 45 students and a faculty of two Incarnate Word Sisters.

The parish and school grew rapidly, and, in 1943, an addition was made to the five-room “cottage.” In 1944, a one-room frame building was erected. While small, building these projects was extremely difficult due to war-time restrictions and scarcity of building materials. Small projects continued and in 1948, construction began on the first wing of the presently existing school. By 1949, with the completion of this wing, the school had an enrollment of some 300 students, and a faculty of seven Incarnate Word Sisters and one lay teacher.

In 1950, two more classrooms were added to the frame building, and in 1952, a three-story, nine-classroom addition was made to the permanent school building. In 1954, a convent with the capacity to house twelve Sisters was completed. Each of the Incarnate Word Sisters living in the convent taught in St. Mary Magdalen School. In 1955, due to the rapid growth of the parish and the increasing enrollment at St. Mary Magdalen School, the archdiocese decided to divide St. Mary Magdalen Parish and start a new parish in the Dellview area. This new parish is now St. Gregory the Great Parish. By 1956, Saint Gregory’s had an enrollment of over 800 and SMMS was 972. Due to further parish growth, Holy Spirit Parish and School was founded in 1964 from Saint Mary Magdalen’s.

During its first 20 years, SMMS grew to an enrollment of nearly 1,000 and a faculty of 20 — 10 religious and 10 lay teachers. However, in the early 1970s, enrollment began a downward trend.
In 1973, the Incarnate Word Sisters informed the pastor, Msgr. Henry Herbst, that they could no longer provide Sisters to staff the school and would withdraw the principal and teaching sisters at the end of that school year. This announcement led to the consideration of closing the school. However, Msgr. Herbst was not in favor of closing, so he asked the Presentation Sisters on Callaghan Road to administer and teach in the school. In September 1974, three Presentation Sisters were transferred from St. Gregory the Great School, one as principal and two as classroom teachers, to help keep the school open. With the Presentation Sisters assisted by some dedicated lay teachers and two Incarnate Word Sisters, the school began 1974 with an enrollment of 257 students.

In 1986, the parish formulated an expansion plan called “Vision 90-Parish Expansion Program.” The completion date for this vision was set for 1990, to coincide with the golden anniversary of the founding of the parish. The major goals of this program included razing the original “cottage” and erecting a new Parish Family Center and a Gymnasium. The school continues to benefit greatly from the realization of this vision.

During this same period of parish growth, the school underwent a major asbestos removal project, putting a significant burden on the school budget and personnel time.
From 2010-14, SMMS was a part of the Good Shepherd Network of Catholic Schools (GSN), which included seven other local Catholic schools. During this time, SMMS enhanced its Catholic identity, academic excellence, and financial viability, in collaboration with the other GSN schools. In 2012-13, the school launched its After School Club Program and the CAL Program (an athletic program for students not old enough to participate in AIAL sports). In 2013-14, SMMS introduced its dual language program, its Maverick Values Program, and its Graduate Support Program.
The GSN dissolved in 2014, and on July 1, 2014, SMMS became a parish school again. In 2014-15, SMMS started its SuccessMaker Academic Excellence program.

SMMS, with more than 400 students, is currently part of Boston College Two Way Immersion Network for Catholic Schools. Teachers attend annual conferences and training with Boston College and work with a mentor provided by the university throughout the year.

The Two-Way Immersion Network for Catholic Schools (TWIN-CS) is a national initiative advancing biliteracy and bilingualism in Catholic elementary schools by effectively coordinating research, expertise, and practice. The Roche Center for Catholic Education launched TWIN-CS in the fall of 2012, with endorsement and collaborative start-up support from the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA). The cohort consists of 14 network schools selected to receive training and design support to build two-way immersion programs over the next two to three years. The work of TWIN-CS is led by practitioner experts who guide the design and implementation of the two-way immersion model best suited for each participating school’s community.”

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