Cathedral School of St. Mary celebrates 150th anniversary

By Carla L. Smith
Correspondent

It’s been 150 years since parishioners of St. Mary Cathedral Parish in Austin requested a school for their children and since two Holy Cross sisters fulfilled that request. Today that school is known as the Cathedral School of St. Mary, and is celebrating a century and a half of faith and learning. 
The Cathedral School of St. Mary holds the distinction of being Austin’s first school in continuous operation and its staff and student body have witnessed everything from the beginning of the state of Texas to the Great Depression, world wars and the more recent technology boom. Through it all, the school’s mission and values have remained the same as Bishop Joe Vásquez noted during the anniversary celebration Mass on Feb. 3.
“Your children are getting a wonderful education here with regular subjects in addition to our faith being passed on,” he told previous and current students in attendance. 
“Our school has grown by leaps and bounds and continues to get stronger by the teaching and passing on of our Catholic faith and traditions. Never forget your school and always be proud of it,” the bishop said.
Located in the heart of downtown Austin at 10th and San Jacinto and next to St. Mary Cathedral, the school began with six small buildings that included a boarding house for religious sisters, followed by various moves over the years. The school has seen generations of families fill its hallways and classrooms, creating a rich legacy that continues today through individuals like alumnus and current parent Alma Cortez-Jackson.
“I have such warm memories of growing up at Cathedral School; it is home,” she said. “Now I want my son to experience the same wonderful religious and academic education the school has to offer.”
Alison Aguilera also embodies the school’s past and present. A former student of the Cathedral School, Aguilera now teaches pre-Kindergarten at the school and feels honored to be back.
“Cathedral School of St. Mary holds a special place in my heart,” she said. “Having the opportunity to return as an adult is like coming home again.”  
Part of the school’s strength has been its ability and foresight to balance what alumni experienced in the past with today’s ever-changing world. An example of this is the current blended learning form of curriculum in which all third through eighth grade students receive a laptop computer that they use for both classroom lessons and independent schoolwork. 
“Being that we’re a 150-year-old school, it’s interesting to witness this old-meets-new way of learning,” Advancement and Admissions Director Esmerelda Hoang said. “Thanks to parishioners and donors, our students are able to attend classes in a centuries old building but surrounded by the newest of technology. It truly is the best of both worlds.”
It’s no secret and comes as no surprise that during the school’s 150 years of existence much has changed in both the school and in Austin. No longer the sleepy little college town it once was, Austin is now a big city with a population that is diverse and growing; something that’s reflected in the Cathedral School’s enrollment.
“It’s interesting in that the school’s demographics have changed just as Austin’s have,” Hoang said. “We still have commuter students whose parents work downtown, but we are much more socially diverse in that we also have kids who live in the neighboring high-rise buildings as well as those from nearby low-income areas.”
The school serves families from 36 different ZIP codes throughout Central Texas in pre-Kindergarten through eighth grades. Also as part of its mission and desire to serve all, the school is currently partnering with Sacred Heart Parish in Austin and private donors to help those who couldn’t otherwise afford a Catholic education. Through the generosity of many, students from all walks of life are walking the hallways of the Cathedral School and walking out with both a foundation of Christian formation and academic success.
During the last 10 years, more than 95 percent of Cathedral School students have applied and been accepted at many local private high schools as well as academically challenging public schools. 
Many of those students have gone on to become mentors and groundbreakers in their own right, following the footsteps of notable leaders who are alumni and have served as principals of the school. Knowing he is filling big shoes, current Principal Robert LeGros acknowledged both past and present supporters following the Bishop’s Mass.
“Your presence is very important to our community and we are grateful for all you do on behalf of our beloved mission,” he said. “You have brought us where we are today and your sacrifices have made our school a success.” 
The two original sisters who answered parishioners’ call would most certainly be proud of what their little school has become, and Bishop Vásquez predicts continued success for the school that, for 150 years, has made a difference to so many.
“In 150 years another bishop will be celebrating a Mass like this,” he said during the anniversary Mass. “I want to thank each of you for making the sacrifices you make and I ask for blessings on all of you as you prepare our children for the future.”
Sesquicentennial events began with a Mass and Fall Festival last September and conclude next month with a gala celebrating the school’s history and successes. Festivities also took place during Catholic Schools Week with an alumni Mass, book fair, talent show and Gabriel Project student-led donation drive. 
Cathedral School of St. Mary is currently accepting application for future students. For more information, visit www.smcschoolaustin.org or call (512) 476-1480.