Following the end of World War II, there was a significant population movement from the urban centers of Los Angeles to the San Fernando Valley. As a result of this expansion, a need developed for churches and schools in this area. The Catholic school system symbolized the spiritual influence of the local community.
Growth of Our Schools and Our Parish
1950 – Our Parish
May 24, 1950: St. Genevieve Parish was established by Cardinal James McIntyre. Monsignor Michael Ryan was appointed the founding pastor.
Building of a temporary church, what is now known as Madonna Hall, began that same year.
In October of 1950, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Newark arrived and began a parish census as well as teaching religion classes for the local children.
In addition to the Sister of St. Joseph of Newark, our schools have been staffed over the decades by a number of dedicated women from the following religious orders:
- Salesian Sisters of Don Bosco, formerly known as the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians
- Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament (SJS)
- Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet
1951 – Our Preschool and Kindergarten
In the spring of 1951 a preschool and kindergarten were opened in a warehouse on the church property. Blueprints were drawn to construct a church and school. The elementary school was opened in September 1951 with the first four grades. Each year another grade was added and, because it was necessary to have two classes of every grade, another eight classrooms were built.
1959 – Our High School
The mission continued in 1959 with the opening of St. Genevieve High School. At the onset, only half of the current high school building was completed. However, as the demand for admissions increased, the parish added a second wing. In spring of 1963, our parish high school held its very first commencement ceremony. The early parishioners were proud that their parish provided a continuous Catholic educational journey from childhood to adulthood.
1965 – Church Completed
It wasn’t until 1965 that the current St. Genevieve Church building was completed. This timeline is indicative of the importance that Catholic education played in the lives of our founding parishioners.
1980s & 90s – Enrollment
Enrollment had reached an all-time high in the mid-1970s with a student population of 1,100. During the late ‘80s and throughout the ’90s, enrollment declined as did the reputation and reality of the school. By fall of 1999, enrollment bottomed at approximately 300 students.
1996 – A New Gymnasium
In June of 1996 a new gymnasium was completed along with a new weight room and music room.
1999/2000 – A Seismic Shift
Beginning August of 1999, our school underwent a renaissance with a cutting-edge program in Character Education. Fortunately, the senior class of 2000 were visionaries and helped to implement major changes in the way students interacted on the Valiant campus.
“Lessons Learned From Columbine” became the theme for the year and the start of the 1999-2000 school year created a seismic shift in relationships and daily reality. It was the first time freshmen were welcomed onto the campus with an explosion of enthusiasm and spirit, while paying homage to the lives lost that year at Columbine High School.
October 2003 – National School of Character
The Character Education program that began in August of 1999 blossomed and eventually became a model for the nation. On October 17, 2003, St. Genevieve High School became the first Catholic school in the nation and the first high school in California to be recognized and honored as a National School of Character by the Washington DC-based Character Education Partnership. That autumn, as part of their annual retreat, faculty and staff flew to the nation’s capital to accept the award on behalf of the school community.
November 2003 – Celebration of Character
On November 2, 2003, the school held a grand Celebration of Character in the gymnasium. It was an incredibly spiritual day filled with festivities and reflection. Local dignitaries attended the celebration, however, it was the event’s keynote speaker who made the lasting impression. Mrs. Beth Nimmo, the mother of Rachel Scott, the first student murdered at Columbine High School in April, 1999 accepted our invitation to keynote the event.
2005 – Smart and Good High Schools
In 2005, St. Genevieve High School was again recognized in Smart and Good High Schools, a report to the nation authored by Thomas Likona, Ph.D. and Matthew Davidson, Ph.D. As one of the 24 schools in the nation that were studied and chronicled in the report, St. Genevieve was characterized as an exemplary school whose programs provide a blueprint for success in school, work and beyond by integrating academic excellence and high ethical and moral standards.
The Carters: Beginning of a Rare Friendship
In October, 2005, former President and Nobel Peace Prize winner Jimmy Carter and wife Rosalynn welcomed four St. Genevieve High School students to their hometown of Plains, Georgia. As circumstances would have it, St. Genevieve students had been presenters at a National Conference on Character Education in Atlanta. Following the conference the delegation of students, their principal and one teacher drove to Plains to hear Carter’s Sunday school lesson. Rosalynn sat in the pew with the students and stood introducing the group to her husband and the congregation saying: “Jimmy, I’d like to introduce you to my friends from California.”
In the following years, the relationship between the Carters, the town of Plains and St. Genevieve High School continued to grow. In the spring of 2009, the faculty and staff spent their annual retreat in Plains. Rosalynn provided the opening talk, reflecting on her own spiritual personal journey from childhood to the present. Brother Dan Ariale, retired pastor of the Maranatha Baptist Church, and Nelle Ariale, Pastor Dan’s wife, also were speakers during the retreat. On the last night of the retreat, the Carters and members of their church joined the faculty and staff for a final evening of prayer and song. The Valiants gathered everyone in a prayer circle in the church sanctuary and led “the Anointing,” a prayer in word and song that has become so meaningful to our community and, through our students’ ministry, is now quite meaningful to others.
That same weekend, the cast and crew of Singin’ In the Rain, the school’s fall musical production, joined the faculty in Plains. With permission from the National Parks Service, St. Genevieve High School students staged the “East Coast Production” of Singin’ in the Rain at the historic Plains High School, now a national museum. That particular show will be remembered for three things: it actually rained onstage during the production; a former president and first lady attended the opening performance; and, the building was surrounded by secret service agents.
The relationship of mutual admiration between the Carters and the school continued to flourish. When Carter celebrated his 85th birthday, he made only two requests of the party organizers; he wanted David Osborne, his favorite pianist, and the St. Genevieve choir to perform. On September 27, 2009, the Valiant Voices, the school’s performing choir, were joined by the school’s award-winning boys and girls dance teams in providing 45 minutes of dynamic entertainment specifically designed and produced to honor the former president on his birthday. The venue for this historic event, the Rylander Theater in Americus, Georgia, was filled to capacity. The students’ show was received with enthusiastic cheers and standing ovations.
A Presidential Visit
On Monday, October 25, 2010, Carter, while in California promoting his new book, White House Diary dropped by to say hello. He entered a packed gymnasium filled with our entire student body along with parents and friends and his first words were a question: “Can anybody guess what is my favorite high school in America?”
You’ll Never Walk Alone
In White House Diary, Carter revealed his favorite Broadway show was Carousel. The Valiants immediately went to work on taking his favorite show on the road back to Plains, only this time, the school invited Academy Award winner and star of the movie version of Carousel, Shirley Jones to join us. She accepted. On Friday, February 10, 2012, Shirley Jones sang You’ll Never Walk Alone to open the Valiant’s production of Carousel. Following her performance, she sat in the front row alongside the Carters. Students filmed the trip and created the documentary You’ll Never Walk Alone. While being interviewed by students, Carter revealed that he’d like to bring his wife with him next time he returns to St. Genevieve High School.
An Unforgettable Cinematic Experience
In August of 2012 the entire student body packed the historic Cinerama Dome in Hollywood to watch the documentary film, You’ll Never Walk Alone that was filmed and edited by St. Genevieve students about their journey to Plains, Georgia to perform Carousel.
An Evening to Remember
On February 19, 2013 Carter’s motorcade returned to St. Genevieve High School and this time, keeping his promise, he brought along his wife Rosalynn. The Carters were taken on a student-led tour of the school and the unveiling of “the Carter Wall.” The Wall chronicles the special relationship the school has shared with the Carters over the years.
His Excellency, Bishop Kussala Following the tour, the Carters were escorted into our gymnasium where Mass was celebrated with 1,600 in attendance. Our celebrant was Bishop Eduardo Kussala from the diocese of Tamburo-Yambio in South Sudan which was the world’s newest and poorest nation. Since the Carter Center has been pivotal in fighting disease and negotiating peace in that nation, the school hosted the bishop who stayed as a guest of our pastor for a week in the St. Genevieve rectory.
Record Donation to the Carter Center
During the Mass, student body representatives presented the Carters with a check for the Carter Center in the amount of $8,500. Students held fundraisers for months and Carter remarked it was the largest amount ever donated by students.
Dinner Fit for a President
The Carters held a press conference in the school’s library following Mass. Then, they were escorted to Madonna Hall which had been transformed into an elegant banquet hall. Parents of current students prepared and served a meal designed to spotlight some of the ethnicities of our families. Entertainment was provided by the Valiant Voices as well as Grammy winner Helen Reddy, Academy Award winner Shirley Jones and popular rapper Chuck D who recited a poem he wrote especially for the occasion.
Remarks by Rosalynn
After dinner and entertainment, the final remarks of the evening were provided by Rosalynn Carter: “If only more schools in the world were like St. Genevieve, there would be more peace in the world.”
Music Icon Comes Out of Retirement at St. Genevieve High School
Grammy winner Helen Reddy spoke in 2010 as part of our Character Education Speaker’s Series. She referred to the event as one of the highlights of her life. She was so impressed by the Valiant community, that when looking for a concert venue after 10 years of retirement, Helen chose St. Genevieve High School. She performed on July 13 and 14, 2012. The school’s Jazz Band and Valiant Voices were her opening acts. Guest from 3 countries and 18 states visited the campus for the benefit concerts.
In July, 2008 Father Alden Sison became pastor of St. Genevieve Parish. For more than seven years the school and parish had been operating without a pastor. Under his leadership, a master plan for the future of our high school and parish was crafted.
Upon his arrival, Father Alden made clear a vision of a united campus. He immediately began taking steps to bring together elementary and high school staffs. During the 2012-13 school year, a parish-wide athletic program was implemented with one athletic director for all sports. For 2013-14, for the first time in the schools’ histories, a model was adopted with one President-Principal along with two Heads of School, one for elementary and one for high school.
In October, 2009, St. Genevieve High School celebrated its 50th birthday. To mark the occasion, a beautiful Mass was celebrated in the school’s gymnasium the Friday night of Homecoming Week. All current students as well as hundreds of alumni were present. The Mass was concelebrated by Monsignor Jack Foley, a 1963 St. Genevieve faculty member, Monsignor Robert J. Gallagher, member of the class of 1964 and Father Alden Sison, the current pastor.
The following day, the school organized a 4 P.M. parade down Roscoe Boulevard to the stadium at John H. Francis Polytechnic School, where the school’s homecoming football games would be played. The three eastbound lanes were closed to traffic to allow students, floats, the homecoming court and 13 former homecoming queens, including the very first queen, Whanita Lonsberry Moore, to make their way to the site of the game. The theme for this homecoming was A Michael Jackson Homecoming, which paid homage to the entertainer who had died four months earlier and had transfixed teenagers and adults alike during the 50-year history of the school. Hall of Fame Rapper, Chuck D and his wife Gaye, now friends of our school, were the parade’s Grand Marshalls. As the parade progressed eastward on Roscoe Boulevard, an airplane flew over the parade route, pulling a banner reading “Happy 50th St. Genevieve High School.” The stadium stands were filled with largest crowd for a football game in recorded memory; alumni and former players watched from a special reserved section at the end-zone. The halftime performance saw the collective efforts of the boys and girls dance teams, cheerleaders, band members and the cast of the fall musical with a giant production of the number Footloose. After the game, hundreds of alumni recessed to the campus for a huge reunion. It was a wonderful 50th anniversary celebration!
In December 17, 2009 the school held what can only be described as a stunningly beautiful and meaningful Advent Mass. A proud Cardinal Roger Mahony proclaimed at its conclusion that St. Genevieve High School is a “supremely superior” high school. Two months later, when the Valiant Voices and invited dancers performed at the annual Cardinal’s Award Dinner in Hollywood, the cardinal again congratulated our students and told the audience after the performance that they now know what makes Catholic education great.
Living the Ascension
In March of 2010 the 10th annual faculty retreat was held in Pismo Beach California. The faculty and staff posed with our pastor for a photograph that now graces the cover of Living the Ascension, a book written by Principal Daniel Horn and published by the National Catholic Education Association. The book provides insights rooted in the successes experienced at St. Genevieve High School about ways to turn around failing schools and reverse the national trend in Catholic education of declining school enrollment. Living the Ascension provided much needed hope and direction.
On the Edge
Following the publishing of Living the Ascension, hundreds of educators continued to visit, call, write with questions and requests for assistance. Not only did St. Genevieve seem to have answers for recruiting students, now the questions involved how the school retains the students once recruited. To answer those questions, principal and teachers wrote and published, On the Edge, a guide for Catholic school educators on recruiting and retaining students. The book was self-published in April of 2013 with proceeds going to the school’s endowment fund.
Over the last half-century, St. Genevieve High School has enjoyed a rich history of excellence. The school community continues to work hard to add to the richness, diversity and excellence that define it.
St. Genevieve High School currently enrolls approximately 525 students from more than 20 San Fernando Valley parishes. Since 1963, more than 5,000 young Catholic men and women have graduated from the school. They can be found in practically every career and in colleges and universities all around the State of California and the nation.
St. Genevieve High School’s signature Character Education program continues to gain local and national attention and garner praise and accolades. The program’s speaker’s series has attracted many noteworthy presenters from around the country and the world. More often than not, those who have visited to inspire our students have come away being themselves inspired. In recent years, our school community has been addressed by such notables as:
- Arun Gandhi, activist, diversity speaker and grandson of the father of modern India, Mohandas Gandhi.
- Sister Clare Fitzgerald, motivational speaker and teacher, expert on the history of Catholic education.
- Jeffrey Cleveland, English Channel and long distance swimmer.
- Pastor Dan Ariail, former pastor of the Maranatha Baptist Church author of The Carpenter’s Apprentice.
- Michael Josephson, attorney, civic activist and founder of Character Counts!
- Julia Chavez Rodriguez, community activist and granddaughter of labor organizer and civil rights leader Cesar Chavez.
- Dr. Gerald Durley, motivational speaker, pastor of Providence Missionary Baptist Church (Atlanta).
- Dr. William Shultz, former Executive Director of Amnesty International.
- Oatess Archey, former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent, author of Going Over All the Hurdles.
- Mike Medavoy, film producer, Chairman and CEO of Phoenix Pictures.
- Sister Helen Prejean, activist and opponent of capital punishment, author of Dead Man Walking.
- Edward James Olmos, actor, producer, director, community organizer.
- Helen Reddy, Grammy winner, recording and television star, environmentalist.
- Chuck D, rapper, author, motivational speaker and record producer, leader of the rap group Public Enemy.
- Immaculee Ilibagiza, survivor of Rwandan genocide, author of Left to Tell.
- Darryl Strawberry, American former professional baseball right fielder and author.
Like a Hollywood Musical
Music has become such an integral part of who we are that the running joke is that at any moment this school community is likely to break out into song. We have 13 different bands between our elementary and high school and we conduct two full-scale musicals each year. Anyone who has ever attended a Mass here remembers the raucous and spirited joy evident in our students.
A School Transformed
There have been many articles written about our school since our renaissance began in 1999. One we are most proud of was published in the Los Angeles Times on August 26, 2008. Writer Carla Rivera, after spending many hours on our campus referred to St. Genevieve as, “One of the most innovative schools in Los Angeles.” Ms. Rivera was referring to when our entire school travels to the Hollywood Bowl each fall to attend an evening performance in order to not only expose students to great culture and music, but as a way to teach good character and practice common manners. She was also impressed that ours was one of the first schools to offer Mandarin and that students were taking field trips to China.
The Transformation Continues
Our music program back in 2008 was just beginning to blossom. Now, music, band, dance and the arts in general are a formidable force on this campus.
Academically the numbers of students being admitted into college each year, admitted to and attending four year universities as well as the numbers of students who are choosing and succeeding in their Advanced Placement classes continues to grow.
Athletically, since our 1999 renaissance we have placed 121 teams into playoffs.
The fall of 2015 saw the inauguration of two new courses.
Contemporary Issues in Political Science is a course for St. Genevieve students to literally have an opportunity to change the world by affecting state through grass roots efforts to bring about Parental Choice in their children’s education.
By offering Arabic, we provide students with an opportunity to not only learn one of the world’s most spoken languages, but to position themselves as very marketable in tomorrow’s job market.
Parents and students are invited to add their contribution to the school’s history and are encouraged to share their talents and dreams, their time and energy, to make this community the very best it can be… to make St. Genevieve High School an Ideal Catholic School Community.