Saint Augustine was one of the world’s great educators. He taught many with his school, sermons, and writings. Much of his teaching was theological, but he is also recognized as one of the great philosophers of human history. So naturally, the discipline of education is one of the foremost missions of the Augustinian order.
Father Thomas Rowan replaced Father Daley as pastor. The war years were hard on everyone, but especially hard on those in a military town. Father Rowan’s tenure was difficult, and he served for just over a year.
John Burns was the 5th pastor of Saint Patrick’s, assuming the position with the departure of Father Rowan in 1943. The parish had a magnificent church and a dedicated congregation, but no school. Of course, a few obstacles stood in the way of the Great Depression and World War II. Whether it was by design or merely fortuitous, Father John Burns was the right priest to get St. Patrick’s school up and running.
Father Burns was an intellectual and a natural educator. Born in Albany New York in 1895, he received his formal education at Villanova. After ordination, he continued at Villanova as a teacher, writer, drama coach, and preacher. A quiet, affable man, Father Burns had a deep respect for quality education, and his appointment to the position of the pastor couldn’t have come at a better time. The parish very much needed a school, but there were several problems. There was no school building, no teachers, and there was a war going on. And San Diego was a military town. It was decided that the old church hall could serve as a temporary school, but teachers would be needed. In Catholic schools of the era teachers were overwhelmingly religious: nuns, brothers, priests. For grammar school, it was mostly nuns. Nuns, of course, belong to a religious order, so the proper means of securing their commitment was to appeal to the mother superior, or at least someone who had her ear.
The Academy of Our Lady of Peace is the oldest high school in San Diego. (Its charter predates that of San Diego high school by three months). OLP is run by the sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet, and it just so happened that the principal there, Sister Generosa, was a student of Father Burns at Villanova. She presented him and his petition to the Provincial, Sister William, who promised two nuns. St. Patrick’s school had begun.
On October 1st, 1944, Sisters Mary Francesca and Margaret Clare arrived at St. Patrick’s to begin teaching 54 children in three grades. Tuition was $2 per month. The hall was divided into sections, but barely adequate. To compensate, the church later that year purchased used army barracks which were converted into classrooms. The next year saw 106 students and three nuns who resided at OLP. As the school expanded a used Quonset hut was purchased and pressed into service. It was all make-shift and jury-rigged, but with some brilliant minds and dedication, it worked.
By 1949 funds were available and a new school was completed. Additionally, a convent on the parish grounds gave the nuns a place to live. Also, the church hall was complete. With church, rectory, convent, and hall St. Patrick’s, in 1950, was how it looks today.