Celebrating 125 Years

Local Catholic school continues tradition of community

By Seth Sandronsky
April 2021

St. Francis of Assisi Elementary School in Midtown celebrated its 125th birthday last November. The school opened in 1895 with 60 students in a two-story, four-room clapboard structure at a building cost of $3,600. Today, 312 students from transitional kindergarten to eighth grade attend the parochial school.

To honor its historic contributions to the community, SFAES donated to Loaves & Fishes, which serves homeless and hungry children and adults in Downtown. That charitable effort defines the school’s mission, following in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi.

“This is the tradition of the Franciscan community,” says Ivan Hrga, the school’s principal. “That is empathy, inclusivity and engagement with the community.”

The families of the 1895 student body lived nearby the school. In 2020, students’ families reside throughout the capital region. They commute from Elk Grove, Natomas, Roseville and West Sacramento, reports Hrga, whose kids are SFAES students.

Kim Bushard is a state worker who lives in East Sacramento. Her twins, Piper and Preston, are fifth graders at SFAES who have attended since kindergarten. “SFAES is a tight-knit community that embodies the small school experience,” Bushard says. “As a parent, having the peace of mind to know my kids spend their days surrounded by people who know, love and support them is invaluable.”

That is not all. “Similarly, being seen, heard and supported as a parent has been a true gift,” Bushard adds. “We all crave community and SFAES offers that to all of us.”

The current SFAES building opened in 1926, run by Catholic Franciscan Friars and Franciscan Sisters. Just ask Michelle Boyer (class of 1959), a retired classroom teacher for the Sacramento City Unified School District. “We were taught by nuns and priests,” says Boyer, who lives in Midtown.

Boyer and her two brothers attended SFAES after moving with their parents from Denver to Sacramento. Boyer’s brother, Bruce (class of 1968), an East Sacramento resident, was a St. Francis Church altar boy for three years. “I still have friends from my years at SFAES,” he says. “Overall, the school influenced every chapter of my life since graduation.”

Dealing with the current social tumult is an issue now. COVID-19’s health and economic crises have challenged SFAES. “There have been sacrifices and uncertainty,” Hrga says. On that note, financial aid remains available to students in need. SFAES is 100-percent self-funded from student tuition. Fundraisers help maintain the school’s financial bottom line.

Speaking of a strong foundation, some SFAES staff have been there for 30 to 35 years. Their experience is a stabilizing force for students and their parents in this uncertain time. Newer staff also enhance the educational opportunities at SFAES.

TV journalist Julissa Ortiz, a Sacramento native and alumni of SFAES (class of 1991), covered the 125th birthday bash for Channel 31. She got her first taste of journalism as an eighth grader at the Catholic school.

“Mrs. Church was my eighth-grade teacher,” Ortiz says. “She has been teaching there for 36 years. Her son now works there, too. He was in my brother’s class!”

SFAES’ 125th birthday celebration reflected pandemic precautions. A drive-thru legacy tunnel on the playground allowed SFAES alumni and the community to view photo boards dating back to 1895. SFAES students and staff buried a time capsule with contributions from each class and magician Scott Green performed virtually to end the day’s festivities.

What is next for SFAES? “Our hope is that we are around for another 125 years,” Hrga says.

For more information, visit stfranciselem.org. To support the 125 Year Giving Campaign by purchasing a commemorative brick, go to sfes.ejoinme.org/125yeargiving.

Seth Sandronsky can be reached at sethsandronsky@gmail.com.

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