Cathedral Chapel School Celebrates 80th Anniversary

From left to right, Jim Short, Toni Morrell Short, Sharon Gless, Kathy Gless (wife of Sharon’s brother, Michael, also an alum) and Tony Medley.

Cathedral Chapel School (known as CCS by its students and alums, like me) first opened its doors at 8th & Cochran Streets on September 8, 1930. Twenty-eight students comprised the first graduating class. When the school was built, two rooms were specifically designed for music, and piano lessons were given outside school hours for $1.00 per hour. The monthly tuition was $2.00 per month for the oldest child and $1.00 for additional children in the family. The cafeteria, which opened on the second day of each school year, served hot lunch items for five cents each.

Today there are 290 students. Tuition is $3,500 for Catholics and $4,050 for non-Catholics. Each day begins with an assembly with a prayer and flag salute. It’s not only for students, though. Generally it is also attended by 60 parents. The cafeteria no longer serves lunch. Hot lunch is now provided by an outside caterer.

CCS celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 1980 and has hosted a celebratory reunion occasionally since, the last a 75th reunion five years ago. 1949 graduate Wilson Winnek and 1955 graduate Dick Orfalea, brother of billionaire Kinko’s founder Paul Orfalea, who attended but did not graduate, were having lunch one day and decided that it was time for another celebration. The result was that on Saturday, May 15, CCS celebrated its 80th anniversary starting with a Mass in the Auditorium at 4 p.m., followed by a BBQ party in the schoolyard at 5 p.m. There were three celebrants of the Mass: Rev. Earle Walker, Charles Shelby, C.M., and John McGarry, S.J., all CCS graduates in 1936, 1955, and 1976, respectively.

According to Karen Ball, who coordinated the event, more than 600 alumni attended, with 137 signing up at the door. The oldest attendee was Forster Magers, who graduated in 1932, joining six others who graduated in the 1930s. The event raised more than $7,000 for the science & art center, to which the cafeteria is being converted.

CCS has had more than its share of celebrated alums. During the time I attended (for 9 years, K-8), in addition to Orfalea, schoolmates included future movie stars Sharon Gless, of Cagney & Lacey fame; Michael Murphy, whose more than 100 screen credits include a featured role (listed over Meryl Streep) in Woody Allen’s Manhattan (1979); and all four of John Wayne’s children with his first wife, Josephine, the late Michael and Toni, and Patrick (my classmate) and Melinda. Other celebrities who attended the school include Natalie Cole, who graduated in 1964. Prominent attorney Tom Girardi was a coach at the school.

I have seen Sharon and Michael Murphy and Melinda at several of the celebrations. This year Sharon flew in from Florida for it and Melinda came up from Newport Beach. Says Gless, “I can’t imagine being as happy as I was here. These kids had such an impact on me, as I hope I did on them.”

But the school isn’t remarkable just for the celebrities it has spawned. It competes every year in the Academic Decathlon against 100 schools, winning in 2002, 2005, and 2008. In 2002 it went on to win the statewide competition.

Says Principal Tina Katherine Kipp, “We foster academic excellence and teach how to be competitive in education because children today need to be competitive and work hard in order to be successful and get a good education. What we teach is faith based. We emphasize that our students should be of good character, have moral values, and know right from wrong.

“The event we had on May 17 was truly astonishing. For an elementary school to have so many people who are so dedicated and loyal is amazing. I’ve worked for 37 years in Catholic elementary schools and this school has the most loyal & dedicated alumni I’ve ever seen.”

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