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‘Saints’ begins centennial year in grand style

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SAN DIEGO — St. Augustine High School will kick off its centennial year on Friday, Sept. 16, with an 11 a.m. Mass at the all-boys school’s North Park campus.

The liturgy will be held in the 55,000-square-foot student activity center, St. Augustine Commons.

“It’s going to be a really big day,” said the school’s president, Ed Hearn.

In addition to the school’s 700 students, faculty, parents and alumni, the centennial Mass will also be attended by Augustinian leaders, including the prior general and provincials from across the world, who will be in San Diego from Sept. 11-23 for an international gathering.

“Sons of St. Augustine,” a documentary directed by filmmaker and alumnus Chris Cashman (’93) that chronicles the school’s history, will premiere Sept. 17 to an audience of select donors and the board of directors at an event that will also include dinner and cocktails. Additional screenings will be held during the centennial year.

The school’s history has also been documented in a book. “The Saintsman,” written by Hearn, was released in July. Packed with historic photos, the book is being given to those who make a $250 donation to the endowment fund.

St. Augustine High School, which is popularly known as “Saints,” was founded in 1922.

It has seen many changes over the past century, including the adoption of a president/principal governance model in 2003 and the hiring of its first lay principal and lay president in 2003 and 2006, respectively.

Saints welcomed its first students in September of 1922. Classes that year were held in the hall at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Mission Hills, before relocating a year later to the present-day campus on Nutmeg Street.

Augustinian Father Gary Sanders, provincial of the Province of St. Augustine in California and a member of the Saints Class of 1967, noted that there “wasn’t always a welcoming of Catholics in San Diego” in the school’s early days. But under the leadership of Augustinian Father John Aherne, who became principal in 1953, Saints made inroads with the community.

In 1956, Father Aherne convinced the public schools to accept Saints’ athletic teams into the San Diego City League.

Until 1988, Bancroft Street had cut through the middle of the Saints campus. The street was closed between Nutmeg and Palm streets at a cost of $880,000. This paved the way for later redevelopment of the campus.

The three-phase “Building Future Saints” campaign transformed the campus between 2004 and 2018.

The first phase, which was completed in 2007, saw the demolition of two single-story classroom buildings and the construction of two new ones – the two-story Mendel Hall and three-story Villanova Hall.

Phase 2, completed in 2017, included the construction of St. Augustine Commons, a four-level student activity center that includes a below-ground gymnasium with seating for 1,500 and a sky deck with three rooftop basketball courts.

The third and final phase saw the completion of the Raymond Center for the Performing Arts in the summer 2018, which includes a 400-seat theater and 2,000 square-foot music studio.

Hearn credits the school’s longevity to several factors, including God’s grace, an ability to change with the times, and the “tremendous love” of generations of alumni who continue to support the school “in a million different ways.”

Father Sanders reflected on what his own high school experience meant to him.

“It helped me know what my interests were,” he said. “It let me know what I wasn’t good at and helped me celebrate what I was good at academically. But all of it always comes down to community for me. I consider Saints as not just a school … There’s no doubt that it’s a brotherhood.”

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