Looking Back and Moving Forward
Siempre Adelante – Always Forward. These words are what inspired our founding families over 20 years ago to persevere through all the challenges they faced as they worked to establish a much-needed Catholic elementary school in South Orange County. Their commitment and determination resulted in the doors opening to 250 students in September of 1995. Today, they are the very same words that continue to strengthen and motivate us. St. Junipero Serra Catholic School now serves over 1,000 students and remains a leading, Catholic faith-based school in the Diocese of Orange.
At St. Junipero Serra Catholic School, we seek to provide our students with a moral center, a values-based education, and a challenging curriculum for all learners that nurtures curiosity and inspires the love of learning through innovation, investigation and imagination.
In 1993, a group of concerned parents approached their Pastors about the feasibility of establishing a Catholic elementary school for their children. Although the Diocese had no plans in place to expand the school system in the Diocese of Orange, the parents assumed the responsibility of working closely with the Diocesan School's Office establishing the county's first and only tri-parish elementary school.
Today, the school serves four parishes: St. Kilian, San Francisco Solano, Santiago de Compostela, and Holy Trinity. Bishop Norman McFarland named the school after Saint Junipero Serra "The Apostle of California," the Spanish missionary who founded nine Franciscan missions in California from 1769 to 1782.
St. Junipero Serra Catholic School, which was the first new Catholic elementary school in Orange County in 15 years, opened in the fall of 1995 as Serra Catholic School. When SJSC opened, it had ten classrooms accommodating a total enrollment of approximately 250 students in grades Kindergarten through Sixth. Today, SJSC educates over 1,000 students in grades Preschool through Eighth.
In September 2003, SJSC opened its first permanent facility, the Primary Education Building (PEB), which housed students in grades Jr. Kindergarten to Fifth. By the fall of 2009, SJSC completed the second phase of development by opening their doors to the Middle Education Building (MEB), which now houses grades Fifth through Eighth along with the Student Activity Center (SAC).
As SJSC continued to grow, there was a great need to expand and offer families a preschool option. In September 2011, Serra Catholic School Preschool opened its doors on the grounds of Holy Trinity Church in Ladera Ranch. Due to the success of the Early Childhood Programs and to accommodate the growing needs, the preschool relocated to the main campus in the fall of 2015 and today continues to offer programs for three and four-year-old students that meet the unique requirements of every family.
On October 6, 2015, the priests from the four parishes the school serves, joined Bishop Kevin Vann celebrating Mass in honor of the 20th Anniversary and the canonization of Junipero Serra, which also culminated in the name change to reflect the sainthood of their patron. Today, St. Junipero Serra Catholic School maintains to live by Siempre Adelante... always forward. SJSC continues to grow and anxiously awaits the completion of their sacred Chapel, Student Creation Center (our commitment to STEAM education and the arts), which will complete the final phase of the school's structural development. Groundbreaking is scheduled to take place in the Spring of 2017.
St. Junipero Serra Catholic School continues to remain faithful to their past, confident in their future, and steadfast as they move forward with and through Christ.
20 Years Ago
It was March 15th. It was the Ides of March. Julius Caesar was assassinated on March 15th, 44BC. It is a date I couldn't forget. I studied Latin at my Catholic High School, and the Sisters taught us well. However, now in 1995, this date held more significance for me. By this date, we were supposed to hear from Bishop McFarland: Would we have permission to start a school in September? So much work on the part of many parents had gone into proving the necessity, the value, and most importantly the support from our three parishes for such an endeavor; to open a new Catholic School in our area. We waited anxiously for a response.
It was a crisp, bright day. The kind of Spring day in Rancho Santa Margarita where the sky is full of puffy white clouds so thick and bold against an almost neon blue sky. The kind of sky where you actually see the edges of the clouds and they look three dimensional and so close you can touch them.
I had my youngest daughter, Emily, in the car with me while running errands. We drove past the parcel of land at Antonio and Banderas that was generously earmarked for the school. I decided I needed to get out and walk the property, say a prayer. Emily was more than happy to run around the dirt lot. I turned my gaze to the sky. It is easy to see pictures in the clouds with even a little imagination. What I saw was surreal to me and I will never forget it. The puffy clouds separated just enough to expose blue sky that was in the perfect shape of a descending dove. I showed Emily and acted ecstatically in a silly way. At just five years old, she most likely thought I was crazy. There are few, if any, times in life we get a clear message from God. I felt like this was one for me. I remember telling Emily, "This September you will be going to school here!" That even sounded crazy to me but at that moment, (with the image of the dove in the clouds above us) I immediately experienced a profound sense of peace and gratitude that the decision would (most certainly) be in the school's favor.
Fast forward a few months to Summer 1995. I met with our new Principal, Audrey Tellers, in a small office at SMCHS. We sat down to talk about the school uniform colors and the emblem design. I relayed my experience to Audrey in casual conversation because it had such a strong impact on me as an example of the power of prayer. I told her how all our meetings from the very beginning started and ended with a prayer to the Holy Spirit for guidance. It quickly became apparent that the descending dove, the symbol for the Holy Spirit, was critical to the design on the emblem. That is why you see it floating on the San Damiano Cross with the Saddleback Mountain in the background. I will never forget that day God answered our question: Will there be a school?
Julius Caesar is known for many famous quotes, but the one most popular is: "I came, I saw, I conquered." On March 15th, 1995, WE (the Serra Community) came together, WE saw the need, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, WE attained our goal!
God bless Serra School as WE move forward to the finish line in building out our Campus.