Looking back at Saint Katharine of Siena School

We Treasure Our Past
We Hope in the Future
We Continue the Tradition
We Celebrate

Monsignor Charles F. Kavanagh

In 1915, twenty two years after the creation of the parish, the new pastor, Msgr. Charles Kavanaugh, saw the imperative need for a parochial school. An application for five Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, to open a school was accepted.

During his twenty year tenure , the original grade and high schools were built, a convent for the Sisters was purchased, and the Grotto was constructed. He was regarded as one of the most brilliant speakers among the Catholic clergy. To the youngsters of St. Katharine’s School, he was a gentle and kindly soul. To the tired and disheartened, he came with strong faith and optimism, always hopeful, giving to others something of the love and joy which inspired his own life.

Original Grade School

The cornerstone of the new grade school was blessed by Msgr. Kavanagh on
August 4, 1916. Anticipating approximately 100 children the first year, 1916, to the amazement of all, 168 pupils were registered, equally divided between boys and girls. This meant that all six classrooms were in use, and crowded, from the beginning, a condition that would continue and worsen until the new school was opened in 1958.

New High School – 1922

St. Katharine’s High School opened as a two-year Commercial Course in 1916. The changing trends of education soon led Monsignor Kavanagh to realize the necessity of a complete high school. As a result, a separate High School building was built in 1922. In 1926, St. Katharine’s became a four-year high school. It sent forth many successful graduates during the next forty years.

The High School building consisted of two classrooms and auditorium, which also served as the gymnasium. Early in 1922, “St. Katharine’s Hall” was opened to the public for the first time, with an orchestra furnishing music for the occasion. Seating about 800, “St. Katharine’s Hall” was one of the largest auditoriums in the suburbs. For many the hall will be remembered as the site of graduations, school plays and other parish events. In 1925, an adjoining building was constructed containing six classrooms and two laboratories, for biology, chemistry and physics.

Original K Club

Activities for youth began as early as 1930 with the formation of the “K Club”, consisting entirely of St. Katharine’s High School graduates and basketball players. (Romi Manzi, kneeling-center, is still going strong at 99!) The K-Club was expanded in the 1940’s and 1950’s to include girls’ basketball teams.

Toward the end of the Great Depression, the basement of the old grade school was converted into a recreation center of sorts for young men that included pool and ping-pong tables and shuffleboard. A novel feature of this activity was this: whenever the basement of the school flooded, which was during every rain, even the pool tables floated.

The Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) of the Main Line reportedly was started by
St. Katharine’s Parish.

Early Years

In 1917, the school bore fruit in its first religious vocation when Miss Elizabeth Dunne entered the I.H.M Novitiate, taking the name of Sister Catherine of Siena (she served for more than 60 years until her death).

Class of 1920

The first Commencement exercises were held in June, 1918, when a class of four was graduated. Three of them later entered the religious life.

Student Body – 1920

It is difficult, if not impossible, to comprehend the great faith of the parents who sent their children to the old St. Katharine School between 1916 and 1958, when the new school was dedicated.

Band – 1920’s

The physical conditions were deplorable, with constant flooding during rains. Frequently, there were as many as 75 to 80 in a classroom, since usually the second and third grades, and the fifth and sixth grades, were doubled up so all eight grades could be accommodated. The nuns were paid $30 a month and taught every class – there were no “specialists”.

IHM Sisters

Somehow, the Sisters provided a remarkable level of education much appreciated by those who attended the school during those years. A great debt of gratitude is owed to the “IHM’s” for the education of two generations in those grossly inadequate facilities! (inadequate physically, but not educationally or spiritually) St. Katharine’s School was always noted for their high standards, and responsibility lay directly with those dedicated Sisters. They served three generations of children with exceptional results.

New Grade School – 1958

With only six classrooms, the old school’s enrollment had grown from 146 to 296 by 1952 when the new school fund campaign opened. That meant an average of 50 children in each classroom. It reached a peak of 360 in 1954, with another 158 enrolled in the high school. Public school projections for the rest of the decade, which were realized, indicated that St. Katharine’s school must be replaced. On March 17, 1957, Dr. Leo MacGinley, the current Pastor, laid the cornerstone for the new school, and on April 30, 1958, the feast of St. Katharine of Siena, classes were conducted for the first time, culminating a remarkable Building Fund Campaign which raised virtually all of the $380,000 needed.

High School Cheerleaders – 1955

In 1963, the high school had a record enrollment 0f 207, and the grade school enrolled 506. The high school’s physical plant and facilities were too small to survive the massive growth of the Main Line Catholic population after World War II. As a result, it was phased out gradually after the opening of Archbishop Carroll High School in Radnor in 1967. In 1969, the final graduation from St. Katharine’s High School was held.

New Parish Center – 2000

A major building fund campaign ($4MM) in the late 1990’s culminated in 2000 in :

  • Renovations to the grade school, consisting of added classrooms, administrative offices and cafeteria improvements.
  • Opening of a Parish Center on the site of the High School. It includes a Gymnasium, Meeting Rooms and Kitchen.

When Msgr. John Jagodzinski, the Pastor during the campaign, left in 2006, the Parish Center was named in his honor.

St. Katharine’s School today is rated among the very finest in the Archdiocese. The enduring excellent reputation is due to the strong support of Pastors through the years, the long line of I.H.M Sisters who served so faithfully and well for 75 years, and past and current principals and staff.
St. Katharine’s is a school of which the long line of parents and parishioners, who have contributed so handsomely and generously to its success, can indeed be proud.
The spirit, commitment, excellence, dedication, support and perseverance that has characterized the schools for over 100 years, provides a legacy of hope and confidence for the future.