Saints Peter and Paul School was founded in 1944 on the grounds of the parish church at 515 Opp Street in Wilmington, CA. In bungalow barracks lining the perimeter of the property, the Franciscan Sisters of Charity and Penance began their assignment to provide a Catholic elementary education to the children of the parish.
A few years later, in 1951, a new religious order arrived in Wilmington – The Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny. The ten sisters were Irish except for Sr. Monica Grant, who was born in Fiji of Brahmin Indian parents, and they settled into their new mission quickly continuing and expanding the elementary education program begun in 1944. The school building on Bay View Avenue and convent on the corner of Lagoon and Opp were both brand new, and the community made the sisters very welcome and so began fifty-eight years of loving mutual service. School principals from the Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny who served throughout the years were Mother Gabriel MacMahon, Mother Carmel Kehoe, Sister Mary Joseph O’Reilly, Sister Gabriel Delaney, Sister Ena Maguire, Sister Genevieve Marie Vigil, and returning to Sister Ena who retired in 2002 after 26 years as principal.
In the years following the school’s founding, the city and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles were undergoing a population explosion. Cardinal McIntyre was establishing parishes and building schools to meet the needs of the faithful. Soon the sisters had over fifty students in each classroom. There were no teacher aides or school secretaries but there were room mothers and a vibrant Mothers’ Club. To ensure the religious instruction of children attending public schools, the sisters taught CCD classes in the old school on the church parking lot. With increasing help from well-trained lay instructors the sisters continued to direct and teach the programs from first grade through confirmation until recent years. In the 1980’s a Family Ministry program, which included Rainbows for All God’s Children, bereavement groups, senior luncheons and family outings, the annual Seder Meal reached out to the broader parish community.
Extra-curricular school activities included drama, choirs, and a sports program for upper grade boys and girls, complete with cheerleading squads. Coaches were all volunteers. “School families” and the subsequent celebration of every special day, religious and secular, led by these families, cemented many supportive relationships among the students.
Fundraising is always part of every Catholic school and SPPS is no exception. Annual parish fiestas, Christmas bazaars, raffles and student programs augmented the coffers. In the 1970’s Watson Land Company began providing a generous grant each year to the school for tuition assistance, which continues to this day (read more about this family’s legacy). This is a tremendous help to many families. The Archdiocese also established The Catholic Education Foundation (CEF) to provide financial assistance to needy families in the schools. Our local Unocal Oil Company was approached to become one of the Education Foundation donors but Mr. Stegemier, the CEO, chose to help a local school instead, and SPPS was the lucky recipient. There was great excitement as we re-carpeted the classrooms, upgraded equipment, purchased new textbooks and desks and finally completed our Field of Dreams! Watson Land and Phillips 66 continue their support to this day, providing annual assistance as well as special gifts to maintain the campus, upgrade academic programs, and help fulfill the goals of the school’s strategic plan. Three other private foundations, the Richard Riordan Foundation and the John and Dorothy Shea Foundation, and the Ahmanson Foundation have also provided generous support throughout the years, including a bungalow to house our kindergarten, a Kindergarten playground, computer lab with Writing to Read program, and more recently a state of the art wireless network system and technology upgrades in the classrooms with Smart Boards, Ipads and Chomebooks. We are truly blessed with the many generous people who continue to give of their time, talent and treasure to help the school and students!
The sisters and lay teachers who made up the faculty over the years were dedicated, hardworking people. It was with great sadness that the last of the Cluny sisters left the school in 2003. The sisters later moved to the convent at Mary Star in San Pedro, but continue to attend school functions such as the annual gala. Lay principals have served since Sister Ena’s retirement, currently with Nancy Kuria since 2008. A new order of oversight began in 2015 with the addition of a Norbertine rector, Father Charbel Grbavac O.Praem., who continues leading leading the school with Ms. Kuria. The convent adjacent to Saints Peter and Paul has become the home of the Norbertine Sisters who are serving diligently to oversee the church’s poverty program, teach religion in some school grade, and staffing the transitional kindergarten program.
We are truly a blessed community – a family of parents, students, alumni, teachers, donors, supporters, and volunteers – who all share a common goal to ensure the very best education for the students of Saints Peter and Paul School!