Notre Dame Schools, Marysville

“Where would they find poor children in a land teeming with gold mines?”

Father Peter Magagnotto, Marysville pastor, had to make several trips to San Jose before he could persuade Sister Superior Mary Cornelia to open a school in Marysville. “Where would they find poor children in a land teeming with gold mines,” she wondered. And, there were too few Sisters and no money to start a new convent and school. Fr. Peter, a practical man, raised the money, bought some land, and got his “yes.” In October 1856, Sisters Mary Bernard Weber, Alphonse Marie Vermulyen, Maria Julia Walsh and Miss Louise Prevost, one of the first graduates of Notre Dame, San Jose, made the two-day trip by stage and steamer from San Jose to Marysville.

Notre Dame School, Marysville. Early days.

Fr. Peter’s purchases were a half-block facing C street, between Seventh and Eighth. A three-story building on the property was adapted to provide two large classrooms, a parlor, a chapel and rooms for the little community. Classes opened on November 10, 1857, with a registration of 18 day pupils.

By 1871 the entire block was convent, day school and boarding school. New buildings were completed and a high brick wall surrounded the property. Over the next 80 years, buildings were renovated and additions constructed. The gardens and trees always made it a place of beauty for the students. Academic standards were high, and by 1924 the school was accredited to the University of California.

By the 1950s, the oldest buildings could no longer be renovated to meet changing needs and were torn down. The high school built in 1924 and the old elementary school remained, and became the high school. A new elementary school and convent were constructed. At this time, with the agreement of both the Sisters’ community and the parish, the schools became parochial schools.

Alums with Sr. Barbara Hanagan at a reunion.

By 1970 the cost of education, especially teachers’ salaries, increased while high school enrollment decreased. The parish could no longer afford the full subsidy. Sadly, it was necessary to close the high school. Thousands of young women had received an excellent education for life in that school. In September 2008, the elementary school merged with St. Isidore’s School in Yuba City.

The Marysville Alumnae Association was formed in 1906 at the time of the Golden Jubilee of the convent and school. The Marysville alumnae are extraordinarily loyal to the memory of their school and to the Sisters and their ministries today.

Excerpts from the early annals:

For four days the Sisters have lodged and boarded at Father Pierre’s and have been busy preparing the beds and furnishing the rooms. They have had the great favor of having the Blessed Sacrament at the end of the first week and Holy Mass was celebrated for them at least twice a week; when they admitted boarders they had Holy Mass every day except Sunday. When all was in order, Sr. Marie Cornelie returned to San Jose leaving the little Community of three entrusted with the cultivation of this new vineyard; they did not really know how it would turn out. Confidence in God was its support for what would three poor little Sisters do?

All being ready, school was opened the second week of November. Nineteen pupils enrolled the first day, about 1/3 Protestants, as paying day pupils; at the end of the month this number was doubled. The Sunday classes were also well attended; thus the Sisters gained the confidence of the Protestants as well as of the Catholics. In the vacation of the same year it was decided to add a wing to the building to receive boarders. Sisters Victoria, M. Gonzaga, and M. Kostka came from Cincinnati to the assistance of the little community. The boarding school was opened and in a short time the little wing could no longer contain the number of children. The mines near Marysville were very rich. The population was increasing and it seemed that the Sisters would have many pupils and up to that time they were all paying; there were no poor; in fact, anyone who wished to work did not have to be poor. They, however, would have liked very much to have a charity class. To receive more pupils it was necessary to build and in order to build it was necessary to buy some land….

Since the boarders as well as the paying day pupils had increased it was easy to meet all these expenses of buying and building. After the year 1859 they had begun a small class of charity pupils but it was not for several years that it was at all attended because no one wanted to be poor at this time. In 1863 they began a class of small boys in a little building on one of the lots bought previously. The convent continued to prosper until the second flood.

In 1868 the classes were well attended and we had a good number of advanced boarders. We applied to the Legislature for the right to give diplomas. Mr. Montgomery, a lawyer in San Francisco, helped us very much in this matter. We had received our rights of incorporation the same year and after that our pupils could teach in the public schools without further formalities or examinations.