Advice about Catholic Schools

Archived Q&A and Reviews



Comparing Parochial High Schools

Feb 2014

We are faced (hopefully) with having to choose between three outstanding high schools for our son's high school years. All the school's are excellent academically and have substantial clubs/social. So any insights you can provide, oh wise community, are appreciated:

Choice 1 - St. Mary's
Pro: 600 students Con: Not close to us

Choice 2 - St. Joseph's
Pro: 400 students Con: We don't know anyone there

Choice 3 - Bishop O'Dowd
Pro: Convenient for us Con: Too big?


I currently have a daughter who is a junior at O'Dowd, but I have two recent graduates as well who are both in college. Can't say enough about the academics and normal day to day activities for the students up there. The teachers are accessible all of the time and truly want to see their students succeed. My teenagers never missed a day of school and always wanted to be there for something that was going on. The school is not big as it seems with 1200 kids. The class sizes are small. In fact, my daughter is in an Art class this semester with 8 other kids. It is fantastic. You can get involved as a parent if you'd like, but you don't have too. All 3 schools are fantastic, but I believe O'Dowd stands out of the crowd. Check out their new environmental building online. It should open in April for the students and apparently on one of a few in the nation. Let me know if you have any other questions. Karen

Choice of Catholic schools depend on what you child is interested in and how bright and outgowing they are. For instance when we looked the first two times, only BOD had a string orchestra, lacrosse, ski club and offered AP Computer Scioence. These were some things we needed. Kids from our catholic elementary school went to all three places.

If you want great theatre or debate for instance check out BOD. All three have good jazz band. Only St Marys and BOD have football. Some have Rugby some don't. St Joes is very small and is great if your child is shy or you want a tight environment. BOD has great religion classes such as Atheism,Holocaust,BioEthics,Social Justice.

St Mary's has a nice winter break where you can take a short course. Academically, BOD is tough and competitive if you take the AP classes. Also, sometimes it is hard to get into those ap classes.

I would also look at where the kids from last year ended up for college. Wish high school was this fun when I was there

All 3 are indeed all good or even great schools, but they have some pretty significant differences besides their student body size and location. Does your child have a particular academic interest? We leaned towards St. Mary's for quite a while because the English department faculty impressed us so much and they also have a very good baseball team. We ended up at Bishop O'Dowd, however, because we thought they offered the most across the spectrum: lots of AP course offerings, and incredible academic support. And I do think the extracurriculars at O'Dowd are more extensive - everyone knows about their sports teams, but they have a great debate team and their performing arts program is stellar. The school did feel large to me at first but the multi-day freshman orientation program is *very* thorough, and you'll be amazed how quickly your child grows into the school. My son gets plenty of personal attention (he would probably say too much) from his teacher and counselors. For what it's worth, the two kids I know who didn't like O'Dowd and left after freshman year, both went to Berkeley High (a much larger school). Everyone is different; it is really hard to say what would be best for your child based on your post. But I definitely do not think O'Dowd is too big. Happy

Wanted to chime in on your school choices. We chose St. Joseph for both our kids, who have since graduated, one last year, because of both its strong academics and its size. If you choose to send your son to St. Joe, you and he will find its community inclusive and welcoming. He will be academically challenged in a diverse, supportive environment which makes room for fun while preparing him for college. Both he and you will be known and greeted by name by both faculty, administration and students within a very short time. Check out the SJND website, in particular their school publication ''Update'', for more insights. Barbara


Considering applying to a Catholic middle school

Feb 2013


We are considering applying to St Theresa School for 6-8. We would appreciate hearing feedback from families who have made the move from public school in the past. How was the transition? Are new children welcomed? How did your child relate to the religious instruction? We would also like to know how proactive the school is with social and emotional development in the young teenager. Optimistic future applicants

Getting into the popular Catholic schools in the area for the junior high grades is difficult unless you are a Parishioner of that particular Parish. Contact the principal directly and ask what their policy is regarding accepting transfers of non-parishioners or non-Catholic's for junior high. CS Mom


Catholic school for atheist family?

Jan 2013


It is now time to consider kindergarten in Berkeley. I was wondering about people's experience with the School of the Madeleine. Although it's Berkeley, the website seems to stress the catholic dogma. I don't have a problem with moral instruction and going over the bible, but is the community mostly christian believers? Is it conservative? Are there enough agnostics to make us feel comfortable within the community? I am considering the School of the Madeleine because I want my children to walk to school, receive musical instrument instruction, and foreign language lessons starting earlyl. I also love the idea of uniforms. Parent

School of the Madeline is a Catholic School and run through the diocese of Oakland. They are not a BUSD school. Your child will be exposed to theology and it will be Catholicism. If you are not ok with your child being exposed to Religion then I would definity say its not the school for your family. Hope This Helps!

The reason why School of the Madeleine's website stresses the ''Catholic dogma'' as you put it, is because School of the Madeleine is a Catholic school. The Catholic Church runs and subsidizes Catholic schools in the interest of providing children with instruction in the Catholic faith. Many parents who are not Catholic send their kids to Catholic schools because they are good schools and they are often more affordable than most other private schools. But the reason they are more affordable is because the schools are subsidized by the Catholic Church, which obviously has an interest in furthering the Catholic faith in its schools. Same goes for Jewish schools and Christian schools and all other schools that are affiliated with religious institutions. If you object to your child learning about Catholicism at school, then I am not sure why you'd be considering Catholic school. -- another atheist

School of the Madeleine is diverse - a welcoming community of intelligent people from a variety of backgrounds, races and religions. Yes, religion is taught in all grades, the student body attends mass once a month, and many positives aspects of the Catholic faith are emphasized (caring for those less fortunate and the planet, empathy, leading a moral life, etc). If you can be supportive of that (and even grateful that your child is getting a first-rate education ), then you should take a school tour, ask more questions, and see how the community feels to you. MAD Community Member

I'd like to correct what an earlier poster wrote about Catholic schools being supported by the Catholic Church. I had always thought the tuition was low because the schools were in part subsidized by the Church. However, I have come to learn that this is not true of the School of the Madeleine or of the majority of Catholic schools, which is why they are closing at an alarming rate all over the country. The reason the tuition is low is because of the large class size, 36 children in a class, and because the teacher's pay is lower than at other private schools.

In terms of being an atheist and sending your child to a Catholic school, it can be done but depends on your comfort level with religion. Your child will come home talking about God and Jesus and believing in them, but not necessarily knowling a ton about Catholicism. She/he will learn generally about Christianity. If you feel a need to share your beliefs with your child, you will create conflict within your child which I think would be difficult for your child. If you do not do this, you will have a religious child when you are not religious. You may wind up with this either way, especially in the early years. Eventually your child will ask why she/he isn't baptized, having first communion, going to mass, etc. You will need to think about how you would respond in these situations and if you want to be in a position where you have to address them. An agnostic


Catholic school with great faith formation?

Jan 2012


We are looking for a K-8 Catholic school in the East Bay that places a high priority on faith formation. (We are practicing Catholics.) Academic excellence would also be wonderful. Any recommendations?

We live in Berkeley and have looked into School of the Madeleine, but found it to be a bit light (for us) on catechesis. We were also hoping to find a school that was a bit more ethnically diverse.

We are willing to drive as far out as Richmond (in one direction) or Oakland (in the other). Thanks in advance! Happy Catholic

St. David's in Richmond follows the dioscese curriculum. Very diverse and close community.

My husband is the vice-principal at St. Elizabeth's in Oakland. He'd be happy to talk to you about his school, as well as the others in the Oakland Diocese. Feel free to email me and I will forward your email to him. Hannah

My kids unexpectedly ended up going to St. David's . St. John's would be our school as it is closer to home and is our parish. In any case, one thing I've been really surprised about is how much ''faith formation'' they've been getting. I grew up going to Catholic schools-Corpus Christi and we didn't have to go to mass once a week. I kind of like that my son (and next year, my daughter) have the experience of sitting through mass with someone else besides me. I think it's probably boring for them at this young was for me.

I am also surprised by their knowledge and grasp and ideas about God, Jesus, Mary, and church. It's clear to me that they have learned quite a bit from some one else, and it wasn't me. I really think they've learned quite a bit at their young ages and I don't get the sense that it is in your face learning.

St. David's is very diverse. There is a sprinkle of a lot of ethnic groups. I would guess that the most predominate group is probably hispanic. It certainly isn't all white like Corpus Christi was when I was growing up. Times have changed.

Classes are small at St. David's. It's got low enrollment, which probably makes classroom management much easier and allows the kids to have more individualized attention...which is just fine with me.

There's a lot of tradition in the St. David community. I live and work in the community and I find that all the alumnus I talk to about St. David's remember it fondly. It's probably past it's hey day....but it's traditions linger. My son looks forward to the traditions. I think we'll be at St. David's for a while.

Feel free to contact me if you want to talk more.

Pleasantly surprised... judy

Hi there,

You might want to consider St. Jerome in El Cerrito - it's a great school. I find it to be academically stong, very diverse and religion is taught daily at all grade levels.

The school is hosting an Open House on Sunday, January 29 beginning with Mass at 9:00 led by the Student Council followed by the actual open house from 10-12:00. That would be a great way for you to explore the school. Otherwise, call to schedule a tour 510-525-9484

Good Luck! St. Jerome Parent

Dear Happy Catholic,

There is the St. John the Baptist School , San Pablo Ave., in El Cerrito, just beside the St. John Church. Another landmark is the El Cerrito Post Office just across it.. Going north along San Pablo Ave., El Cerrito, it's on your right with the Bank of the WEst as another landmark. The school has a diverse student population and is owned by the Church.

Another school that you can check out is the St. Jerome Catholic School along Colusa Ave., Berkeley/El Cerrito boundary.

I hope the above information will help. Good luck!

Respectfully, Victoria


Catholic high school for child with out gay parents?

July 2011


I am a gay parent looking into eventually sending my now 7th grader to a Catholic high school. I just swichted my daughter from a BUSD middle school because (among other reasons) she was hanging with a pretty homophobic crowd. Am hoping that the smaller, private middle school she will attend next year will make it easier for her to to be out as the child of a gay parent. (Not for my sake but so she can feel safe sharing her full self with those around her). The private high school offerings look very limited ... And surprisingly I find myself more attracted to St. Mary's and Bishop O'Dowd than the secular schools. Am I insane? Do people have experience with how these schools handle LGBTQ issues for their students and parents? A Berkeley Mom

St. Mary's is a very accepting high school. My child graduated from there and came out senior year. There were other gay students at the school at that time as well. The school teaches tolerance and acceptance of one another. Our child had a fantastic high school experience at St. Mary's. St. Mary's supporter

Holy Names High School - all girls, small classes, outstanding academics, and incredibly diverse for the size (economically, racially, religiously and socially).

We are a Jewish family and have been incredibly supported, do not feel awkward at all and think it is a great educational environment (nurturing but challenging). There are a number of LGBT families as well as girls who seem comfortable expressing their sexuality as it works for them.. maggie

My son will start at Saint Joseph Notre Dame in Alameda this fall. I know they have many social/activity groups and one of them is a gay support group. One parent I talked to said she thinks they are openminded about the issue. I will know better once my kid is going there, and would be happy to let you know what I think. I sure hope they support all their students, whatever their sexual orientation. anon

I completely understand your concerns. Saint Joseph Notre Dame High School in Alameda, where my two sons go to school,was recognized this year for the efforts of the gay and straight student alliance to make sure all students feel safe and comfortable on campus.

One student in particular, Kelsey Johnson, was honored for her efforts, and she was named the PG PrideNetwork Scholar, earning a $5,000 scholarship for her anti-bullying efforts at SJND. She founded the alliance, called The Us's, which has organized a Day of Silence and raised money for the Trevor Project at SJND.

And, in response to recent concerns nationwide about young people being bullied, Kelsey established every classroom and every office on the school's campus as a Safe Zone for students who might feel like they don't fit in. She also was honored by Girls Inc. with their Women Who Dare award.

I'm proud to say my kids are part of a school that takes tolerance seriously, and I'm also happy to say there weren't any issues at SJND that prompted the action. It was more a reaction to stories like the one at Rutgers that inspired students. SJND is also a great academic school, with a great diversity of students, all of whom are college-bound.

Hi, Hope this helps... I have a daughter attending Bishop O'Dowd High School currently and a graduate. I want to assure you that the environment is very open to all kinds of families and backgrounds. Both my children have friends and classmates with gay parents. The administration has a positive attitude towards alternative lifestyles and offers clubs and courses for students to explore their interests. As for middle school, I cannot suggest a Catholic school, however I suggest Julia Morgan School for girls located on Mills campus. Best of luck! an Oakland Mom

A gay parent at my daughter's middle school chose St. Mary's after speaking quite openly with the principal about her family, in which the two moms are not only gay but also divorced from each other. She felt welcomed. After two years there she reports it is going well. There are other gay families and she also mentioned that her daughter's "Legalize Gay Marriage" t-shirt was completely acceptable school attire. My daughter attends The College Preparatory School, which is a very comfortable environment for gay families as well as for LGBT students.

Bishop O'Dowd is gay friendly. I don't think anyone is going to say mean things to your child because she has gay parents. I am gay and my son doesn't worry about it, and neither did my daughters. O'Dowd has a teacher who transitioned from female to male and the school administration was very supportive of him. It may be a Catholic school but they don't judge people based on their sexuality and they really don't care if a student or parent is gay. My daughter had a girlfiend when she was at O'Dowd and was never harassed. The students are open minded also. If you are leaning towards O'Dowd, I would recommend it. Gay parent


Are children taught evolution in Catholic school?

July 2011


Hello, wondering if anyone could give me an updated feedback on St. Theresa's Elementary in Oakland, where the children go to school when graduate and if they are taught evolution. Yes, I am a scientist/catholic and can't imagine my child learning science any other way.

Please if you do not believe in evolution, this is not the place to discuss it, I just want to know how this catholic school handles it and don't feel comfortable asking the school myself. Thank you. anon

FYI. The Catholic Church officially recognizes and accepts the theory of evolution. The Catholic Church is not a ''literal'' interpreter of the Bible. The Church has many questionable positions on matters, but this is not one of them. anon

I'm happy to enlighten you on the teachings of the Catholic Church re: evolution. Contrary to popular (but uninformed) belief, Catholicism has no problem with evolution. Here are some statements from a couple of popes:

''According to the widely accepted scientific account, the universe erupted 15 billion years ago in an explosion called the 'Big Bang' and has been expanding and cooling ever since. Later there gradually emerged the conditions necessary for the formation of atoms, still later the condensation of galaxies and stars, and about 10 billion years later the formation of planets. In our own solar system and on earth (formed about 4.5 billion years ago), the conditions have been favorable to the emergence of life. While there is little consensus among scientists about how the origin of this first microscopic life is to be explained, there is general agreement among them that the first organism dwelt on this planet about 3.5 Since it has been demonstrated that all living organisms on earth are genetically related, it is virtually certain that all living organisms have descended from this first organism. Converging evidence from many studies in the physical and biological sciences furnishes mounting support for some theory of evolution to account for the development and diversification of life on earth, while controversy continues over the pace and mechanisms of evolution.''

''Currently, I see in Germany, but also in the United States, a somewhat fierce debate raging between so-called "creationism" and evolutionism, presented as though they were mutually exclusive alternatives: those who believe in the Creator would not be able to conceive of evolution, and those who instead support evolution would have to exclude God. This antithesis is absurd because, on the one hand, there are so many scientific proofs in favour of evolution which appears to be a reality we can see and which enriches our knowledge of life and being as such. But on the other, the doctrine of evolution does not answer every query, especially the great philosophical question: where does everything come from? And how did everything start which ultimately led to man? I believe this is of the utmost importance.''

I will grant you that the Vatican has a number of views on other issues that I have difficulties with, but on evolution, I think they're doing just fine.

Wikipedia has an exhaustive treatment of the ''evolution'' of Catholic dogma re evolution, if you are interested.
Faith and Reason Can Coexist


Catholic Schools in Concord or Walnut Creek

June 2003


My husband and I, both Berkeley alums, were wondering about the academic quality of our local Catholic grade schools, particularly St. Francis of Assisi in Concord. We would love input/recommendations on the Walnut Creek/Concord Catholic grade schools. Thanks! Jan

I sent the text of your message along to my sister who lives out there; we grew up in the parish she still goes to and we all went to Carondelet/ De La Salle High School in Concord. She's pretty aware of this stuff - I think she's planning on sending her daughter to St. Agnes. Anyway, here's her reply:

''Several months ago the principal from St. Francis came to speak to the St. Bonaventure's mother's group about the Catholic school system. I attended (I'm a parishioner, have a 4 year old, live in Concord and have taught in the MDUSD) and was happy to hear that all the diocesan schools are accredited. (A rigorous procedure for schools to go through.) Most of the schools, including St. Francis, hire only credentialed teachers and they all must follow the California State standards. The standardized test they use, beginning in 2nd grade, is a different one than the public schools use, but it's supposed to test what the state wants the kids to learn. I left the meeting with the impression that the academic quality of the Catholic schools are very similar to that of the public schools in the Concord/Walnut Creek area.

The difference will be in the religious/values education and in the students. Catholic schools do not have the resources to educate children with learning difficulties, so students who need remedial, emotional, behavioral or physical help don't attend. They are in the public schools.

I have never observed the Catholic grade schools in session, but I know some families who send their children to St. Agnes and St. Francis and they're very happy there. Hope this info helps.'' -Jean

If you are looking for a wonderful Catholic environment in Concord, I suggest you look at Wood Rose Academy ( The school does not have its own church so it can't call itself a Catholic school, but its guiding principles are based on John Paul II and a wonderful philospophy called ''the gift of self''. Please go to the website and read more about it. It is an absolutely wonderful philosophy.

I found this school when I was contemplating St. Francis myself about 6 years ago. The school iteslf is only 7 years old but is growing by leaps and bounds each year. It started with 20 students and is now up to 80. The class size averages 13 (as compared to 30+ for St. Francis)!! The price is also reasonable in comparison to St. Francis/Queen of All Saints. Even though they don't have their own church, they attend first Friday Mass at Queen of all Saints.

The teachers, administration and board are wonderful and caring. Most of the board members also have children attending and all parents are encouraged to participate in classroom teaching and volunteering. aralday


Catholic Schools in Concord, Martinez, or Clayton?

January 2003


Hello: I'm looking for any insights that any of you may have regarding school/community for St. Bonaventure's in Clayton, Queen of All Saints in Concord, or St. Katherines in Martinez. I realize now that the open house week has just ended, but am interested in hearing what people's experience (s) were. We have a 2 year old that will be ready for Pre-K somewhat soon. As we have not really committed to a parish, it would make sense to participate within the same community that our daughter is going to school. Any help will be really appreciated- Thanks! marian

Well, St. Bonaventure's doesn't yet have a school. My dad is actually on the committee that's been trying to resolve the issue for many many years now, and I can tell you it's not going to happen anytime soon. It's a nice parish though [I grew up there]. I can't give you any info about the other 2 parish schools you mentioned, although I have friends and relatives who really like both parishes.

Have you looked into St. Francis or St. Agnes? They're also both in Concord and they have schools attached. A good friend of mine has both his kids in St. Agnes even though they go to St. Bonnie's, and they all really like it. -Jean