Our History in California
In response to an urgent appeal from Archbishop Joseph Alemany, six young Sisters leave their homes in Canada to begin a strong tradition of ministry in California. After a strenuous journey by ship and train they arrive in San Francisco, California on May 10, 1868. They are met by the Sisters of Mercy, who treat them to strawberries and cream. Thereafter, the Sisters celebrate May 10th as Strawberry Day.
The Sisters establish their first California convent and school on the shores of Lake Merritt in Oakland. After a few years, the convent becomes a hub from which the Sisters go forth daily to serve as educators in various Oakland parishes. As their numbers grow, the Sisters expand their ministry to San Francisco.
In the 1890's Holy Names Sisters open schools in Alhambra, Pasadena, Pomona and Santa Monica; each of these is the first Catholic school in the area it serves. The dioceses and parishes eventually assume sponsorship of most of these schools. Ramona Convent in Alhambra, which serves young women from the San Gabriel Valley, remains as a community-owned secondary school today; one of the oldest in Southern California.
The need for a college to provide higher education for both Sisters and lay women prompts the addition of a college building in 1908 at the site on Lake Merritt. By 1926 Holy Names College is a four-year institution of higher learning.
In 1931 Holy Names High School opens to offer Christian education for girls from several Oakland parishes. During the 1930's the Sisters also respond generously to the period of growth and development of parish schools (both elementary and secondary) in the Archdioceses of Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Holy Names College outgrows its original site at Lake Merritt. The land is sold to purchase a more extensive site and the college moves to its present location on Mountain Boulevard overlooking the San Francisco Bay. Known today as Holy Names University, its unique Weekend College and contemporary career-oriented degrees are especially attractive to adult students.
The move of the college necessitates the move of the provincial administration, novitiate, and infirmary from the site at Lake Merritt to a new location. To assist with fundraising efforts to furnish the new facility, a group of mothers of the Sisters establish, in 1950, an auxiliary group of the Sisters of the Holy Names called the Marie Rose Guild.
In December of 1951, the provincial administration, novitiate, and infirmary move to their new location --the Convent of the Holy Names in Los Gatos. The Guild forms other chapters in the state and continues fundraising to help care for the infirm and retired Sisters. The Guilds in Los Gatos and Southern California (since 1951) are still active today.
In 1961, the California Province responded to Pope John XXIII's appeal for missionaries to Latin America by sending three Sisters to staff a mission in Arequipa, Peru. These are the first of many Sisters who arrive to operate a clinic, and to help staff and administer the elementary and high school of Our Lady of Pilar Parish. Later, these missionary activities expand to the coast at LaCurva. SNJM Sisters currently minister in San Juan de Lurigancha, one of the poorest areas of Lima.
The Sisters purchase Villa Maria del Mar in Santa Cruz. To date, thousands of laity, priests and religious have experienced the hospitality and ministry of the Sisters at this oceanside retreat center.
In 1970, a Montessori pre-school is established in space no longer needed in the Novitiate building of the Los Gatos Convent. Casa Maria Montessori grows from 26 students in its first year, to 166 at its close 29 years later due to increasing regulatory demands governing pre-schools in the home, and an increasing need for space to care for the aging and retired Sisters returning to the Convent.
Parish needs change as laity become more involved in the formal education of students in Catholic schools and religious education programs. Some Sisters begin to serve in the more pastoral aspects of parish life: as directors of religious education, liturgy coordinators, parish administrators, community organizers, Eucharistic ministers to the sick, visitors to the elderly and ill, and coordinators and staff of parish centers. Others engage in direct services to the poor, both here and in Third World Countries.
In 2014, after careful discernment, the Convent in Los Gatos' property was sold to return to its original residential use. The retired and infirm Sisters transitioned to two quality housing and care communities nearby. Sisters who require skilled care and assisted living joined the lay residents at Our Lady of Fatima Villa, sponsored by the Kenosha Dominican Sisters. Another group of Sisters moved into the newly built Merrill Gardens Retirement Community in Campbell. In each of the new locations, they established local communities of Sisters to ensure pastoral and community support from other Holy Names Sisters.
What others might call “coincidence,” the Sisters have experienced as miracles. As preparations were being made for the Sisters’ move to Merrill Gardens, they found themselves right next door to a small church. Holy Spirit Episcopal Church welcomed them with open arms and invited the Sisters to use the Church for prayer. One of the most surprising acts of God’s Providence took place when they learned that the Episcopal diocese would be merging this Church with another in the area. Holy Spirit would be closing. In collaboration with the Episcopal Diocese and the parish leadership, they purchased the property, which is now known as Marie Rose Center: a chapel, offices for support services and a residence. They named the worship space Holy Spirit Chapel in honor of the previous congregation, all of whom are delighted by the continuity of purpose.
Today and Tomorrow
The need for services in ministry is as great as ever. Sisters of the Holy Names has a tradition of service that is well known and respected. We strive, with the financial assistance of our benefactors, and the collaboration of dedicated laity, to continue to respond to the needs of our Church and the changing world, and to provide services to those most in need.