Well-wishers past and present gathered at Santa Margarita Catholic High earlier this month and celebrated 2 1/2 decades of Eagle pride.
Commemorating the 25th anniversary of the opening of the school, almost to the day, Principal Ray Dunne, President Paul Carey and the board of administration stood by as Bishop Tod Brown of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange blessed the front gates of the campus, just as had almost been done on Sept. 2, 1987.
Back then, the gates weren't up, but the entrance was blessed anyway.
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Among those present for the Sept. 4 ceremony were students from the Class of 1991, who passed through the school entrance—where the gates are now—just as they had done 25 years ago. There were 216 freshmen back then, and they represented the first graduating class.
Representing them on the stage was Shane Mielke.
"We weren't motivated by what had been done before us—nothing had been done at the school yet—there were no examples to draw from but we were excited by the potential of what we could do if just given the opportunity to fly," Mielke said.
"As with most freshmen, we had no true understanding of our potential. ... We couldn't fathom state championships and didn't know what terms like "Blue Ribbon" or "International Baccalaureate" meant. But we had faith in God that what we were doing was right and we would be molded into better men and women and become a part of something bigger than ourselves. We were told we were all special and the school was special. We were told right."
Just how far has SMCHS come? Mielke described a weightroom in which "we literally had to pull one weight at a time out into the street to work out." Nowadays, the school has a weightroom to rival top colleges.
“Today brought back some really fond memories and it was so nice to see so many of our ‘supporters’ who have been with us from the beginning” said Doris Gatfield, one of the school's original staff members.
Dunne was pleased with the event.
“It was a great celebration of what Santa Margarita was, is and will be,” he said.
In addition to Brown, those in attendance included Vicar of Faith Formation Fr. Gerald Horan, Diocese of Orange Superintendent of Schools Greg Dhuyvetter, alumni, school founders, students, faculty and staff, and friends and family of the Santa Margarita community.
School founders Tony Moiso and Art and Gaye Birtcher were the first to walk through the gates. They were followed by alumni from the first graduating class of 1991 including Mielke, John McKeehan, John Byszewski, Darla Kosmal, Kathleen Fallon-Boyle, and Hayes Ferry.
Another high point was watching six members of the current faculty and staff pass through the gates marking their own 25th anniversary as employees of Santa Margarita Catholic High School.
The procession was concluded as current school administrators, the senior class of 2013 and all parents and guests in attendance made their way through the newly blessed gates.
“In celebrating this milestone, we express our gratitude to the Diocese of Orange, our founding families, early alumni, and to everyone who helped us celebrate this special occasion,” Carey said.
Carey made note of Canadian geese on the baseball field the morning of the ceremony and that, had they been present 25 years ago, the school's nickname might be much different.
The ceremony recognized Santa Margarita’s growth from a charter class of only 216 students to a nationally ranked school with more than 1,600 students, while also honoring the benefactors, alumni, and friends who helped the school achieve this status.
—Sean Zietler contributed to this report.