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St Leo San Jose 1939 First Communion - courtesy of Lou Barbaccia


The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur first opened the school’s doors in 1915 with 90 students. The school, a mission of Saint Joseph’s parish, began with four grades and added a subsequent grade every year for four years until there were eight grades and 200 students. In 1923, Saint Leo the Great became a parish in its own right under the pastorship of Rev. John McNally. The Sisters were forced to close the school in 1925 when the Order made the decision to leave the area. The parish church was built in 1926. In 1927, Rev. Henry J. Lyne reopened the school with the support of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM).

Some of the original school facilities are still in use today: the gym, stage, and the “small hall” connected to the gym. The parish was a vital and integral part of the local community during these earlier years. The church records show that the annual Saint Leo’s Fiesta was very well attended and featured visits by renowned Hollywood stars. The Fiesta of 1947 even featured a brand new “Home of Tomorrow” as a raffle prize. In 1950 a new school building was constructed to accommodate the school’s 445 students. A few years after that, a new church was completed. Both buildings were dedicated in 1953 by Archbishop John Joseph Mitty.

St Leo Gordon, John C. (photographer)

Over the years, there was a gradual decline in the number of religious teaching in the school. Due to declining vocations, the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary left the school in 1985, after serving the community for 65 years. In 1994, the convent of the BVM Sisters began to serve as a Parish Center. The ground floor also houses the school’s Extended Care facilities and extra staff offices.

In 1997, Bishop Pierre Dumaine handed the stewardship of the parish to the Fathers of the Incarnate Word (I.V.E..) an order of religious based in Argentina. Father Francisco Rios, I.V.E. was their first Pastor to serve the parish. Currently, Saint Leo’s is led by Father Marcelo Navarro, I.V.E. Ninety plus years has seen many changes to the local community, parish, and school. Currently, Saint Leo’s is noted as serving a diverse student population.

The school supports a rich academic and religious program and offers students instruction in computer use, music, physical education, and Spanish. Parents continue to vitalize the school’s many programs including the Parent Teacher Group (PTG) and the Booster Club. Saint Leo the Great is truly a great school with a long, proud history. It remains as successful and vital as it ever was. All this is thanks to the continued support of the community of parents, students, and staff. 2015 will be the centennial for Saint Leo the Great School. Go Lions!