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Celebrating Catholic Schools Week


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Good News for the Nation: Catholic Schools Are Thriving

Happy Catholic Schools Week!

The theme for National Catholic Schools Week 2017 is “Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service.”

Catholic schools offer academic excellence and faith-filled education for students nationwide. National test scores, high school graduation rates, college attendance and other data show that Catholic schools frequently outperform schools in both the public and private sectors.

Did you know that Catholic schools make up the largest private school system in the United States – and indeed in the world? Catholic Schools Week is an annual observance that began in 1974 in order to honor and celebrate the distinctive tradition of Catholic education in the United States. It always begins the last Sunday in January, and includes a week-long celebration and recognition of Catholic Schools in the United States. 176 Dioceses across the country educate more than 2,000,000 Catholic school students in over 6,500 schools. 99% graduation rate among Catholic high schools nationwide. 30% of Catholic High Schools have waiting lists. More than 151,000 teachers fulfill their educational ministry in Catholic schools. Today, 96.8% of those dedicated teachers are lay-people and only 3.2% are religious sisters, brothers or priests.

O’Dowd is one among more than 1,200 Catholic high schools throughout the nation that educate almost 600,000 secondary students. We are proud of our identity as a Catholic school. Catholic schools give their students a strong academic and moral foundation, as well as providing a distinctive social ethos, allowing them to succeed in life, serving in government, industry, business, non-profit and educational fields.

Bishop O’Dowd High School, established in 1951, is named in memory of the former Superintendent of Schools of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, Bishop James T. O’Dowd, who died at the age of 43 from injuries sustained in an automobile accident. Having just helped to establish Marin Catholic and Riordan high schools, Bishop O’Dowd was in the process of drawing up plans for a new Catholic high school in the East Bay at the time of his sudden death.

The personal motto of Bishop James T. O’Dowd, our school’s namesake, was Cor Unum in Cristo, which is Latin for “One heart in Christ”. Bishop O’Dowd, as Superintendent of schools, had a vision that Catholic schools would be places where students and teachers would come together with one heart – to learn, serve and grow. He founded numerous schools all over the San Francisco archdiocese, which at that time was the whole Bay Area. This school was one of the last he founded, and we are proud to carry on his vision.

At O’Dowd today, we understand our Catholic identity through the lens of ‘charism.’ Our charism is comprised by a set of commitments that both describe our spiritual personality as an institution, and that also indicate our institutional aspirations. Finding God in all things calls us to community in diversity, strength of character, academic excellence, kinship with creation, social justice and joy. Bishop O’Dowd High School is a Catholic college-preparatory community guided by the teachings of Jesus Christ, that educates its diverse student body to build a more just, joyful and sustainable world.

Our high school opened with 120 freshmen in facilities provided by St. Louis Bertrand School, with a faculty of two priests and four sisters. The school was staffed by diocesan priests, the Sisters of St. Dominic of Adrian, Michigan and lay men and women.   The late Bishop Mark J. Hurley (Father Hurley) was the first principal. In September 1952, classes met for the first time on the present campus and one class was added each year until the school reached capacity enrollment with its first graduates in 1955.

In 1966, four years after the new Diocese of Oakland was formed, Bishop Begin transferred the administration of the school to the California Province of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Under their direction, the school became co-educational and enhanced its reputation for academic and athletic excellence. The school was staffed for 41 years by the Dominican Sisters of Adrian, Michigan – that’s why Dominican hall is named that – it’s where the sisters lived!

In 1978, the Congregation of St. Basil (Basilian Fathers) agreed to administer the school for the Diocese of Oakland. During this era the school experienced major physical improvements, including its first football field, new parking, computer labs, and expanded library facilities. In 1991, the science labs were updated, and the physically challenged gained greater accessibility to the school with the addition of an elevator. In 1993, a two story, ten-classroom addition replaced the five portables present from the 1960’s. A 325-seat performing arts center was opened in April of 2000. Between 2003 – 2004 an all-weather artificial surface was installed on the lower playing field and the locker rooms were modernized.

Bishop O’Dowd High School began a new phase of its history in July of 2005 with the President/Principal governance model and a Board of Limited Jurisdiction. This leadership group has developed the school’s current master plan, the remodeling of all academic facilities, and a series of carefully designed innovations in curriculum, instruction, fundraising, and programs to provide the best education possible for this new era. Dr. Steve Phelps has served as the school’s President throughout this time of rapid improvement and vitality.

Today’s student body includes 1,225 young men and women served by 170 full-time educators and staff and about 100 coaches. The school is recognized as a leader in college preparatory education in the digital age, rich in diversity, while affirming its Catholic values and traditions through its charism. About 99 percent of Bishop O’Dowd High School graduates enroll in colleges and universities in California and across the nation. Our more than 14,000 graduates fulfill roles of leadership and service, both in the local community, across the nation, and worldwide.

As part of national Catholic Schools Week this year, Bishop O’Dowd High School will join our prayers with those other Catholic schools around the country in thanksgiving for our distinctive educational ministry, our committed educators, and our family partnerships. A highlight of our week will be to enjoy our third annual “O’Dowd Founder’s Day” with an all-school assembly, including prayer, reflection, education, celebration, and fun, on Thursday, February 2, 2017.


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