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“Every parish is a great educational center,” wrote Father Robert Snodgrass, a young assistant at the Cathedral, in 1932. “It is a common mistake to associate the idea of education with school books, school buildings, school debts, and nothing more. In reality, the notion of education should involve the development of men’s characters, the evolution of their whole being.” Parish schools were just one means of carrying out this mission: preaching, lectures, publications, and instruction in the faith, both for children and adults, all played their part. And the liturgy, Father Snodgrass said, was the greatest educator of all, “teaching and edifying by the language of music and ceremony.”

When Father Snodgrass wrote those words, the Cathedral parish was blessed with two vibrant schools: Cathedral School, a free school for boys and girls in grades 1 through 8; and O’Dea High School for boys. The children of both schools—who numbered as many as 600—were deeply engaged in the life of the parish, and vice versa.

Though the Cathedral School eventually closed, and O’Dea High School is now independent of the parish, the Cathedral’s commitment to education, both of children and adults, is as strong as ever. “As a faith community, one of our central tasks is to help each other in our spiritual development. Beginning with Baptism, St. James will assist parishioners in their formation of faith. We will help parents educate their children about our faith. We will provide ongoing support and renewal to parishioners raised in the Catholic faith, including those who have left the church and wish to return. And we will welcome, aid, and support those who desire to become members of our faith.” Setting Our Path: A Vision Statement for St. James Cathedral Parish, 2000. Click here to read more about faith formation ministries at St. James Cathedral today.

Cathedral School

Children at Mass in the Cathedral, 1950s.

The Cathedral School opened in fall of 1911, with 100 students and 5 Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary working out of four spare classrooms in St. Rose’s Academy on Broadway. Just after Easter, 1912, they moved into their brand-new, spacious and state-of-the-art facility. The four-story building featured an indoor gymnasium and playground (in the attic), a large hall with a stage, and two floors of classrooms. The Sisters were astonished the following September when enrollment jumped from 100 to 256, and, two years later, to more than 300. In their brand-new school building, finding space for all the children was already a problem!

A typical day at the School began with Mass in the Cathedral. Those lucky enough to live close by might dash home for a quick cup of cocoa before school began. Then the children would line up in the street for the daily procession into school, which usually happened to the accompaniment of recorded band music. In the classroom, the day began with the “Morning Offering” followed by the Pledge of Allegiance, and the first part of the day was devoted to recitations. Memorization was the basis of education in those days, and the children learned a great deal of poetry by heart, including passages from Longfellow’s Evangeline. Lessons followed: math, civics, handwriting (following the Wesco system), religion, history, and “manual training” for boys and “domestic science” for girls; there were even classes in folk-dancing!

Music was an important part of a Cathedral School education. The children—both boys and girls—sang frequently at Cathedral liturgies, including the weekly “children’s Mass” at 9:00am on Sundays. They sang for funeral Masses, and every year they sang carols around the Christmas crib. Many of the sisters were gifted musicians, who instilled in their students a great love for liturgical music.

In its seventy-year history, the Cathedral School educated thousands of young people, both boys and girls. The Sisters of the Holy Names reached out to an incredibly diverse student body—Filipino, Japanese, African-America, Italian, German—and instilled in each student faith, pride, and a strong sense of community.  In 2004, a survey was sent to hundreds of Cathedral school alumni.  Click here to explore their memories of the Cathedral School 1911-1971.

Special thanks to the Archives of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, Washington Province, for the photos and excerpts from the House Chronicle.

Cathedral School Kids, 1979

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804 Ninth Avenue
Seattle, Washington  98104
Phone 206.622.3559  Fax 206.622.5303