This is a big year for education in Arizona: St. Mary’s Catholic High School — the first Catholic high school in Arizona — is celebrating its centennial year.

As with so many things planted in the desert, when St. Mary’s was established by the Sisters of the Precious Blood in 1917, there was no guarantee that the seedling school would survive. Thanks to the strong support of so many in Phoenix through the years, it has not only survived, but thrived. Today, the school’s deep roots and far-reaching branches intertwine with those of the city and the state it has grown up alongside.

Since our founding, over 10,000 young men and women have come to St. Mary’s to receive an outstanding Catholic liberal arts education that fosters faith, promotes academic and athletic achievement, and encourages civic responsibility. Over the course of our first century, we have survived two World Wars, the Great Depression, the relocation of our school and countless other challenges. St. Mary’s has educated some of Arizona’s most successful citizens, including prominent members of the business community and public servants including police and fire chiefs, doctors, lawyers, teachers, politicians, religious leaders and even an astounding number of professional athletes.

More family than school 

To its students, alumni, faculty and staff, St. Mary’s is, and always has been, a family. I did not attend St. Mary’s, but I had friends who did, and I always envied the tight-knit community of which they were so evidently a part. I felt, then, a tremendous joy when Bishop Olmsted appointed me chaplain of St. Mary’s, because it gave me the opportunity to become a part of the wonderful St. Mary’s community and to share in its traditions.

One thing you realize pretty quickly when you work in a 100-year-old institution is that you are a part of something bigger than yourself. Tradition plays an enormous role at St. Mary’s. G.K. Chesterton calls tradition “the democracy of the dead,” because it gives those who have preceded us a vote in how things are done. The sisters who started St. Mary’s, the Franciscans friars who followed them, and so many teachers and coaches who have dedicated themselves to the school are gone, but they still have a say in how we do things, because they live on in our tradition.

Connected to tradition

Early in my tenure at St. Mary’s, a sports columnist writing about our national championship-winning girls basketball team said that it would be a mistake for our opponents to wait for us to get tired before bringing their A-game. “Saint Mary’s doesn’t get tired,” he wrote. That line says a lot about those girls and our sports legacy, but it also calls to mind a passage from the Bible that says, “Though young men grow weary, those that hope in the Lord will run and not grow weary.”

This year, St. Mary’s turned 100, but in many ways — because we are connected to a living tradition — we have the vitality of a much younger school. American schools often wear themselves out trying to improve the means of education. Our liberal arts approach to education — which has always been part of the Catholic intellectual tradition — focuses on the end, or goal, of education, which we believe is the freedom and happiness that comes from knowing the truth, loving the good and delighting in the beautiful.

This October, St. Mary’s will celebrate all it has accomplished in its first century and formally kick off the start of its second with a Centennial Gala at the Sheraton Grand Phoenix hotel. Everyone is welcome to attend, and more information is available at our website at Go Knights!

Father Robert Bolding is the president-rector of St. Mary’s Catholic High School.

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