The founding of Justin-Siena can be traced back to the vision of Archbishop Joseph Alemany, OP, in the Gold Rush 1850s, for the expansion of Catholic education in his then frontier Archdiocese of San Francisco. Two remarkable individuals responded to Alemany’s call: Sister Mary Goemaere, OP, who arrived from Paris with a small group of sisters in 1850, and became prioress of the first group of women religious in California that would later become the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael; and Brother Justin McMahon, FSC, who with a small band of Christian Brothers, arrived at Saint Mary’s College in 1868. Br. Justin was president of St. Mary’s College and the first Provincial (Visitor) of the Christian Brothers District of San Francisco.
The ministries of these two teaching orders were perfectly blended a century later with the 1966 establishment of two schools on adjacent campuses on the 40-acre property in Napa where Justin-Siena is currently located—Justin High School (for boys, and named after Br. Justin), sponsored by the De La Salle Christian Brothers, and Siena High School (for girls, and named for St. Catherine of Siena, 14th century Dominican and Doctor of the Church), sponsored by the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael. The union of these charisms at the current location was the inspiration of several supporters: Bishop Leo T. Maher, first Bishop of the Diocese of Santa Rosa, who invited both the Brothers and the Sisters to found a school in Napa to serve the growing Catholic population in the area and who provided the acreage on which to build; Brother John Hoffman, FSC, President of Christian Brothers Winery; Brother Jerome West, FSC, Visitor of the San Francisco District; and Brother Bertram Coleman, FSC, Inspector of Schools for the District. Brother Bede Van Duren, FSC, was appointed as the first principal at Justin, and Sr. Carol Quinn, OP, was appointed as the first principal at Siena. Each school began with a freshman class of 49 students, and the first graduations took place in June 1970 with 54 Justin boys and 53 Siena girls.
The two campuses were largely completed within the first years of opening in 1966, initially separated by the area today known as Patrons Plaza, or as many alums refer to it with affection as the DMZ. Joint classes were offered beginning in 1969 as well as the first musical My Fair Lady with a cast from both schools. Because of the duplication of so many educational resources, and following the advice from the Board of Directors (chaired by Robert Zeller) and many supporters, the schools merged in 1972 to form Justin-Siena High School which was co-sponsored until 2006. Brother Bede was the first Principal of the combined school, and Sister Carol served as Vice Principal. The administration rotated between the Brothers and the Sisters; if a brother were principal, then a sister would be vice principal, and vice-versa.
Justin-Siena joined the Superior California Athletic League (SCAL) in 1973, SCAL added girls’ sports in 1974, and the school began a strong athletic program and record that continue today. The football stadium was completed in 1974, additional tennis courts were added in 1975, and four soccer fields were created on the east side of campus in 1983. The varsity baseball field (1984), softball diamonds (1991), and a computer lab (1994) followed. The Lou Paine Training and Fitness Center and Snack Bar were dedicated in 1999. With the dissolution of SCAL in 2000, Justin-Siena joined the Marin County Athletic League (MCAL). In 2001, the Peter and Vernice Gasser Library and Media Center was dedicated and continues to serve students and staff as the Gasser Center today.
The current President/Principal administrative model was introduced in 1994 with Greg Schmitz as the first lay principal and Joseph Bracco as the first President and CEO. During the 2005-06 school year, the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael transferred their sponsorship to the De La Salle Christian Brothers who remain the sole sponsors of the school today. Brother Robert Wickman, FSC, joined Justin-Siena as both Principal and President in 2006, and in 2007-2008, the President/Principal model was re-established with the hiring of Principal Noel Hesser.
In recent years, the campus has undergone several renovations as part of an ambitious master plan: Artificial turf and an all-weather track were installed and rededicated as Dodd Stadium; Patrons Plaza was dedicated as a central gathering place; the Brothers’ Residence was redesigned to accommodate the Welcome Center and administrative and counseling offices and renamed the Christian Brothers Center (CBC); Beckstoffer Family Grapegrowers Plaza was constructed to connect the CBC to the center of campus and provide a entrance point from the main parking lot; the sisters’ convent was acquired by the school and transformed into the Student Residence to house a growing boarding program; the cafeteria and kitchen were renovated to become the current Dining Hall; the North Gym was rechristened Siena Hall following a renovation to accommodate a robust arts program; extensive grounds work beautified the campus as well as reducing water consumption; and the wireless network underwent a massive overhaul and enhancement (along with technology and furnishing improvements to the Gasser Center) to support the 1:1 iPad program and expanding use of technology across campus. Current construction includes the Chapel renovation and the 100 Wing, the first phase of refurbishing each academic wing.
As a member school of the District of San Francisco New Orleans, part of the Lasallian Region of North America of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, Justin-Siena continues today, enriched by its Dominican heritage, as part of a worldwide network of almost a thousand Lasallian schools found in 84 countries. Under the current leadership of President Robert Jordan and Principal John Bordelon, along with a dedicated Board of Trustees, Justin-Siena is thrilled to mark the milestone of fifty years of excellence in Catholic education and proudly embraces the motto of Sempre Avanti, meaning always forward, as the school forges ahead with plans for the next fifty years!