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Artifact of the Month: Happy 150th Birthday Holy Cross School, black and white photograph of original building

Posted by on January 16, 2013

Many tell you the best years of your life are your high school years. I don’t necessarily agree. In fact, I’d say some of my fondest years were the ones I spent in elementary school. From learning to read to navigating playground politics, grade school still holds a big part of my collective memory.

I went to Holy Cross School in the 1970s; it has been around a lot longer than that. This month marks the School’s sesquicentennial. That’s 150 years of education on the hill that overlooks downtown Santa Cruz.

Founded in 1862 by the Daughters of Charity, the school was also an orphanage. A group of five nuns, led by Sister Corsina (who would become the first principal) journeyed to Santa Cruz and set up the campus.

The original Holy Cross School. Note how you enter the building on Mission St.

The original Holy Cross School. Note how you entered the building on Mission St.

I found this photo in the MAH’s archives. The three story building with the Mission St. entrance seems so majestic compared to the school now, which was built in 1958 with the middle school structure built in 1977. My son agrees, saying the building in this photo looks “so grand” compared to the one he has attended for 8 years.

A middle school building peaks out from where the grand entrance was.

A middle school building peaks out from where the grand entrance was.

Even though some things about Holy Cross School have changed, many remain the same. The colonnade that connects k-8th grade still lines the breezeway where I knocked my head on one of its metal poles in 1st grade (and where my son did the same in kindergarten). Sister Barbara has overseen the annual Christmas performances for 40 years and is still going strong. Pride in yourself, reverence, and service to others is encouraged. Even the boy’s bathroom continues to emit a certain smell (I’m not saying bad, just distinct) as it did decades ago.

After attending the sesquicentennial celebration and connecting with old classmates and new friends, I am comforted that a sense of community still exists for the students, alum, parents, and teachers. In a world where things change, people move on or go in and out of our lives, it’s reassuring that some things stay the same. It may look different, but Holy Cross School still stands on the same hill. This spring my son joins the ranks of the graduated. There are many things to celebrate, many new memories to be made.

Happy Birthday, Holy Cross. Go Panthers.



  • W C Casey

    Great photo, Marla. I took a look at the Sanborn maps to see what the date might be. The three map details below – from 1886, 1892 and 1905 (left to right) – show the evolution of the school buildings. The main building and stairway from Mission Street show up between 1886 and 1892, but the smaller building appears to have been moved to the location shown in the photo between 1892 and 1905.

    BTW – on the 1886 map, you can see that the old adobe “juzgado” was still standing at the corner of School Street and “S. Plaza”. That building, built sometime between 1800 and 1845, was William Blackburn’s Eagle Hotel before it became the first convent for the Sisters in the 1860s.