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Holy Names Sisters committed to each person’s full development

February 27, 2015
Sister Marcia Frideger, SNJM

Catholic San Francisco is featuring one religious congregation from the archdiocese in each installment of this periodic column marking the Vatican’s Year of Consecrated Life.

At 1:30 a.m. on May 10, 1868, the steamer Golden Age entered San Francisco Bay bringing six young Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, five in their 20s and one 31 years old, far from their home near Montreal, Canada, in response to a request from Archbishop Joseph Alemany. One of the sisters wrote: “It is May 10th … Our steamer has stolen in silently, shrouded in midnight gloom. What a glorious vision awaits our waking hour. A large city lies before us and though it is very early, there is a great bustle and confusion … everything is beautiful to our sea-wearied eyes.”

At 5 a.m. they were welcomed by the Sisters of Mercy at St. Mary’s Hospital, who provided an afternoon treat of fresh strawberries and cream, a delicacy most unexpected for Canadians in May.

The sisters learned they were to live not in San Francisco, but across the bay in Oakland (Peralta Land), where Father Michael King, recently at St. Patrick’s Church, had moved to serve the growing church there. Two weeks later, they began classes at the new Convent of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart on the shores of Lake Merritt with four boarders and 27 day students. Only a few of the streets were paved. Soon they established schools in the first parish in Oakland, St. Mary’s, and in new parishes, Sacred Heart, in 1876 and St. Francis de Sales in 1886.

The first school established in the city of San Francisco was St. Joseph’s, opened Aug. 18, 1871, at 10th and Howard streets, where Holy Names Sisters served for 120 years. The three-story school started with 110 students. The chronicles for April 18, 1906, tell of the terror of surviving the earthquake and moving sisters and boarders to St. Peter Parish, aided by the Marianist Brothers and the Sisters of Mercy. In 1893, their pupils participated in the first Catholic School Exhibition, organized by Father Peter Yorke.

During the 146 years that Holy Names Sisters have served in the archdiocese, they have been committed to education aimed at the full development of each person, including not only intellectual and spiritual development, but an appreciation of the arts and a commitment to creating a more just society. In addition to St. Joseph’s, the Holy Names Sisters have established schools at St. Monica Parish in 1919, administering there until 1994, and St. Cecilia’s from 1930 until the present, (Sister Marilyn Miller, leaving in 2012 as the last SNJM principal). Other schools in the archdiocese included St. Anselm Elementary School staffed by SNJM’s from 1935-1999 and high school. When Marin Catholic High School opened in 1949, the high school section of St. Anselm’s closed. From 1949 until 1995, Sisters of the Holy Names taught at Marin Catholic. In addition to schools, several sisters have served in the archdiocesan school office, most recently Sister Sylvia Bartheld and Sister Marianne Viani.

In recent years, sisters have ministered as teachers, pastoral ministers, RCIA directors, religious educators, and teachers’ aides in several parishes and ministries in the archdiocese: in San Francisco at Epiphany Parish, St. Finn Barr’s, Epiphany Center and St. Anthony Foundation; in San Mateo at St. Matthias, St. Pius, St. Charles, Holy Angels, and Our Lady of Angels; and in Marin at St. Raphael’s, St. Isabella’s and Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

Educational institutions where Sisters of the Holy Names still serve and which were part of the archdiocese until the 1962 division include: Holy Names University moving from Lake Merritt to the hills of Oakland in 1957 and Holy Names High School, Oakland, established in 1931, and St. Mary’s School, Los Gatos.

Current ministries of the sisters in the archdiocese include: counseling, music education, theological education, services for infants at risk, and pastoral accompaniment of our aging sisters.

Holy Names Sister Marcia Frideger is a Province Leadership Team Member.


Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary

Founded: 1843 in Longueuil, Quebec, Canada (near Montreal)

Arrived: San Francisco in 1868

Original ministry: Christian education of youth and young women

Current ministries: Education, pastoral ministry, spirituality, social justice advocacy, the arts

Number of sisters in the congregation: 895

Number of sisters in the San Francisco archdiocese: 10
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