Education of youth was a major concern of each of the early bishops of the diocese of Los Angeles. From the 1850s onward, Catholic education grew slowly and gradually. It was Bishop Thomas J. Conaty (1903-1915), however, who encouraged the development of a diocesan system of Catholic schools. An educator and former college administrator, Bishop Conaty encouraged the establishment of both parish schools and private institutions.
His educational plan aimed at providing a continuous and authentically Catholic program that took students from kindergarten through college. To hold the schools accountable, he appointed a Board of Examiners to observe the classrooms and judge the quality of teaching. From the beginning, the schools benefited from the work and witness of members of many religious orders of women and men. The bishop encouraged all his teachers to pursue their own continuing education, and he made opportunities available to them in summer institutes.
His successor, Archbishop John J. Cantwell (1917-1947), took up this work as he strove to meet the needs of a rapidly growing diocese. He established structures — boards, councils, and offices — that could accommodate the increasing number of schools at every level. The growth continued during the years of Cardinal J. Francis McIntyre (1948-1970), Cardinal Timothy Manning (1970-1985), and Cardinal Roger Mahony (1985-2011). Under the leadership of Archbishop Jose Gomez (2011 – present), our Catholic schools continue to thrive and impact the lives, families, and communities of the five million Catholics in our Archdiocese.
The system began in 1903 with 19 parochial schools, five academies, and a total enrollment of 2,895. Today, the Los Angeles Archdiocese is the fourth-largest diocese in the United States in number of Catholic schools and students enrolled.
Our Catholic schools are more numerous, their methods more sophisticated, and their success well established. But they remain faithful to their original mission. They are communities of faith in which the Christian message — with its fellowship, worship, and life of service — is integrated into a comprehensive experience for students, their parents and the members of the school staff.
These schools are today, as they have been from the beginning, a Gospel — good news for the community, for the professions, for the future, but most of all for our students and their families.