Star of Sea School to suspend classes in June

110-year-old Catholic school ran into problems trying to convert to classical curriculum

Principal David Gallagher talks with students at Star of the Sea School in San Francisco Jan. 7, 2019. (Photo by Christina Gray/Catholic San Francisco)

Star of the Sea School, a 110-year-old Catholic neighborhood institution in San Francisco’s Richmond District, will suspend classes at the end of the school year in June amid “unforeseen challenges” as the parish K-8 school attempts to adopt a classical education curriculum.

Star pastor Father Joseph Illo and the Archdiocese of San Francisco jointly announced the decision today in an April 3 post on the archdiocesan website.

“The school will continue its preschool classes uninterrupted and will build greater collaboration between the fully enrolled preschool and the elementary school,” the announcement said. “After much consultation, the decision has been made to take the necessary time to develop an Integrated Classical Program, including curriculum development, marketing strategy, and effective business model.”

In a statement to parents earlier in the day, Father Illo said the parish “has done everything possible to maintain classes uninterrupted during this time of transition. Due to unforeseen challenges, however, we now see that it is wiser to take additional time to properly study, design, market and fund this new model. We regret that we must suspend classes because of projected low enrollment for the upcoming school year.
“This has been a difficult and uncertain period for many school parents, some of whom have strongly expressed their concerns and reluctance to this development,” Father Illo said. “There has also been a good deal of positive interest in moving forward with this new model.”

The announcement provided no details about finances or enrollment. However, the San Francisco Examiner reported April 2 that only 40 to 50 students had committed to re-enrolling , less than a quarter of 2017-2018 enrollment.

The new curriculum was featured in an article in the Jan. 11, 2019, issue of Catholic San Francisco.
The article described classical education as a traditional educational model that seeks truth, goodness and beauty through the study of the liberal arts and literature’s “great books.” 
The article quoted Star principal David Gallagher as saying the merits of a classical school education in both public and private schools have been largely “pushed aside” by progressive education programs championed by philosopher John Dewey (1859-1952).
“Catholic schools, all of them, do a great job with reading, writing and mathematics,” Gallagher said in the article. “I think we’ve always done that and we will always continue to do that. Where a classical education differs is that we are trying to create virtue in our students. We are not just trying to point students toward a career but providing them with a knowledge base where they can go on to any career area they want.”

As a parish, Star of the Sea has become a success story in terms of Mass attendance, ministry activity, physical upkeep and finances,

Full story at Catholic San Francisco.


  1. Charles Daschbach MD says

    The value of the Classical Education is not seen or appreciated by parents in the economic-scientific push for STEM careers or the glamor of PERFORMING ARTS today…this movement towards magnet schools where children are funneled into areas where parents believe they can give a ‘head start’ at developing their child’s success in life.
    Some might say that this erosion began with the Land O Lakes educational conference of Catholic Universities under Fr. Ted Hesburgh 50 years ago and the dilution of the Catholic Theology / Philosophy curriculum and opening the governance of Catholic higher education… but I’d argue it is far more complex with the church’s evolution reacting far too slowly to myriad powerful inexorable sociological…

    • Whatever brought the parents of these families to not see (or ever hear of) the value of critical thinking and logic is probably what makes up your myriad powerful inexorable sociological factors. Know it or not, they’re projecting their sense of narcissistic achievement onto their kids in naive one dimensional and closed minded thinking. They may have a point though. As a homeschool family dad, I can say that this type of curriculum and formation results in a certain sociological isolation once the child enters adulthood because there are so few other adults their age that are able to have a meaningful conversation with them. As a group, though, they’re not complaining…

      • Anonymous says

        Chardin– Yes, it is lonely, at times– to be blessed with an excellent education– and to also be blessed with good Catholic religious and moral training! Today’s world is a moral, spiritual, and cultural wasteland! Wonderful to see caring Catholic parents homeschool their children, try to raise them with good Catholic religious and moral training– and seek to give them the very best! These are today’s pioneers, planting seeds which are the true hope for the future of our Nation, as well as for the future of our Church! They will be tomorrow’s leaders! Our pioneer forefathers did the same– and were lonely at times, missing the Old World! We owe them so much!

  2. Anonymous says

    There is more to this story than parents rejecting classical curriculum.

  3. Trumpovsky says

    Hmm…”Unforeseen challenges”…a bit of transparency from the pastor and the archdiocese would be helpful. What happened such that a 110 year old school is closed at a parish that is reportedly thriving? Were the parents consulted prior to the implementation of the new Classical Education curriculum? Why weren’t the parish, the parents and the teachers given the opportunity to try to address the undefined challenges? Something is not quite right about this. Was the Star pastor not paying attention?

  4. So they suspend classes. If and when they resume, I wonder how many students part way through elementary school will return.

  5. Bravo Star of the Sea School! I wish my own child’s Catholic school would do this. Currently it follows the state’s common core curriculum for all but religious education and from a practical perspective, when the curriculum the Catholic school offers is nearly identical to that of the public schools, why would anyone burden themselves with the extra expense? We find the only benefit is that our child is shielded from immoral ideology masquerading as “health” education, but as our child matures and is more able to differentiate between the truth we teach him and the false ideology others try to teach him, this benefit becomes an exercise in diminishing returns.

  6. Arness Barts says

    You might find a more enlightening report without the party line here:

  7. Anonymous says

    This news story (above) is the correct one. (But I dislike the National Catholic Reporter!) Recently, I was looking over scrapbooks full of photos and memorabilia, of siblings from a Catholic family, former Richmond district residents– who all attended Star of the Sea school, and graduated in the 1950s. A real Catholic parish school! With good nuns providing an excellent, true Catholic education! All that is now “gone with the wind,” since Vatican II!! Where are the very few devout Catholic families today, that would truly desire a good, true Catholic education for their children?? Best to just start a good Catholic school for them, with some good teaching nuns! And forget those who do not want this!

    • Anonymous says

      Problem is you need money to do it.

      • Anonymous says

        Anonymous– there are some good traditional Catholic schools, operated by the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, as well as similar religious orders, who love the old Latin Tridentine Mass. Some also have teaching orders of nuns. Money is usually not the problem, for starting a good Catholic school in our Church. You just have to find interested priests, and good Catholic families! The rest will come. Be a pioneer! Many of our forefathers who were poor, who came to America, gave their pennies and labor to build very beautiful churches here, from scratch! Priests and nuns provided the rest.

  8. St George says

    Jan 10: yes…the National Catholic Reporter is more “liberal” (whatever that means) than the National Catholic Register (owned by EWTN). For the record, Bishop Finn was convicted of a misdemeanor for not reporting a pedophile priest to the police. The good Bishop is now in early retirement and his condemnation of the NCR should be taken with a grain of salt. The goal regarding this story should be the TRUTH.

  9. Anonymous says

    If I were in charge- here is what I might do. First– I would close the parish school for a little while. Then I would start a strong religious education program for Catholic parents and children, along with a homeschool parish group for interested Catholic families, led by good priests, and a few capable, devout Catholic parents. Parents not interested may decide to go to a new church. I would try to quietly re-start true, traditional Catholic education! Then, slowly, work from there. The next generation of children who are graduates of this project, will help nurture the True Faith for this parish!

  10. Simple case of school going from Catholic in name only (half the parents aren’t Catholic and many of the Catholic ones only marginally so – it’s San Francisco don’t you know) to seriously Catholic.

    Illo vs the Morlocks. Stay tuned.

  11. Sounds like there was a pretty deep philosophical divide between the school and the parish from the get go. This was just the last straw. Easy to understand where well to do high achieving parents want the formula for high achieving children carried out with the obligatory religious stuff from the parish side being just a necessary and awkward inconvenience. Once the parish and the school were threatening to become the same entity, that was enough for them. Have checkbook, will travel…

  12. Star of the Sea ran into a liberal parent problem. It had little to do with the curriculum proposed. Any authentic Catholic curriculum was hated by some of the parents and those parents made it so miserable, nobody wanted to stay. Please see the comment section below this blog post for details from other parents of this school. The good news is they can reorganize and open as soon as possible!

    • Anonymous says

      I only met Fr. Illo one time in another city, and although he is tall and stands up straight, I did not find him menacing at all, even though I am just slightly over 5′ 3″, small boned and a woman.

  13. Here is an important article detailing the “backstory” from 2015. The pastor was removed then and recently returned and parents did not stand for it.

    • News stories cut and pasted from the SF Examiner and Chronicle? Important? Either you don’t understand SF politics (apparently like Dcn Kandra) or you have an axe to grind (like the parents at Star school)

      • Wrong. That’s Aleteia (a Catholic site).

        The pastor appears to have alienated the school parents (Catholic and not) over several years and the school closed because they all left. You are the one with an ax to grind, it seems.

        • Anon, Deacon Greg and Aleteia are Catholic, however, Deacon Greg spoke without knowing the facts of the matter which is why he got so many letters on the matter. He also put out a follow up and has spoken very highly of Fr. Illo since then. Most Catholics outside of California have no idea what a troubled mess Catholicism is here. The open hostility and rebellion to Catholic teaching, our priests, orthodox bishops and the Catholic Church in general is insane. We very literally have had full page ads taken out by the liberal elite against our archbishop for upholding Catholic teaching. The situation at Star wasn’t a curriculum or personality clash. It was an ideological clash. We’ve had several decades of horrible bishops who let anyone…

          • Fact remains; conflict between pastor and parents for years and most ended up leaving. We could say “whether Catholic or not they are ALL bad or crazy or liberal Californians and it is all their fault” but that may not be the best explanation nor most productive direction.

        • Wrong. That’s Aleteia (a Catholic site).

          A Catholic site and writer that cut and pasted from publications that are regularly openly hostile to the Catholic faith.

      • Schools have been closing all over the SF Archdiocese from low enrollment. Google. Here’s a shocker, Fr. Illo is not the priest at those parishes. The conflict whipped up by the parents was just the death knell for this particular school. Those who can pay would pay somewhere else not to have the drama.

        In a city where there’s more dogs than kids you have to have a good marketing strategy to make yourselves stand out. If a Catholic school actually had a strong Catholic identity that would be one thing but almost zero of them do. Most of them are simply private schools and there’s quite a few of those. Employing and authentic and classical curriculum based on a great books model differentiates them from the pack. And, again, this…

        • Don’t think so. “Marketing strategy” isn’t it. BTW isnt the parish/pastor the “marketing strategy”? And, “Conflict whipped up by parents” may miss the point overall.

  14. The concerns of the parents regarding the classical curriculum is understandable in this day and age. Many years ago I attended a Catholic High School that heavily emphasized the classics, Latin, writing and athletics. When I went to college to study engineering and science, my knowledge of chemistry, biology and physics was paltry. The classical curriculum is great for a student who is interested in the humanities.

    • anonymous says

      This is preschool and K to 8th grade, not HS
      They will have rhetoric, logic, great books, catechism in addition to math, science, and computer classes, Music, art. health, etc
      This would help them in reading, comprehension, thinking, communication, and deciding high school options, college majors and seeing where their talents, and strength lie.

  15. That may have been your particular school because a classical curriculum is in no way opposed to good science (said by a mom and wife of science professionals). Now, I will agree that there’s a difference from a classical liberal arts college and ones with science majors. Our “science” kids didn’t choose to go the great books route because they wanted to get through school quickly but they had no trouble with the science at the college they went to because a classical education is completely supportive of producing a well rounded student Usually, if you go to a great books college you will need to take an extra year at a different college. It’s definitely not impossible but it’s not for everyone’s goals…

    • Anonymous says

      You want your 5th grader to read Cicero and Homer? In addition to learning about black holes and atomic computing and combinatorial genomics?

  16. Perhaps the implementation of the classical approach was a bit rushed? It seems the parents were not fully informed about this change. As a parent who paid for his children to attend Catholic schools, I would have wanted more information regarding the curricular changes especially since they were implemented mid-year.

  17. Anonymous says

    Well– we had “Dignitatis Humanae” and “Nostra Aetatae,” at Vatican II — and a near-total abandonment of Church discipline, and near-disuse of the Code of Canon Law, for the 50+ years since the Council ended. Religious freedom for mankind, and Christ-like love of our fellow (non-Catholic) brethren– ecumenism. Very good in some ways– but very bad, in other ways! (I am trying to make this simple!) Now we have the Pope’s recent declaration signed with the Grand Imam, at Abu Dhabi– stating that God willed religious diversity, in the first place! (Promoting brotherly love– good!) But what about– Jesus Christ and His religion?? And all He died for?? How about the Catechism– and Catholic schools? (and seminaries?)

  18. Anonymous says

    Recently, at Notre Dame U., there has been an uproar because a group of male students made a request for a campus-wide filter and ban on pornography and child pornography– which the college’s President, Fr. John Jenkins, denied. Typical post- Vatican II misguided “individual freedom!” Fr. Jenkins is a notorious, immoral, heretical, post-Conciliar, post-Land O’ Lakes ‘Catholic” leader!

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