Amid a series of questions regarding tradition, mission, and memories asked of those interviewed, the chance to offer one word to describe their Justin-Siena experience often led to heartwarming stories and reminiscing.
Sister Patricia Boss, OP(a.k.a. Sister John Mark in the early years)
Administrator and Instructor from 1981 to 1988Expansive
“The one word I would use to describe Justin-Siena is expansive,” Sr. Patricia mused. “What I mean is that this place provided me with so many opportunities, possibilities to grow.” Sister Patricia recounted her arrival at Justin-Siena as a woman in her 30s and being witness to a community that was to be foundational to her future.
The environment of the convent, of Masses, and of the school where she was surrounded by prayer and worship and colleagues who were dedicated to the same mission of the Brothers and Sisters was a source of inspiration for her. “It drew me to a new awareness of where my talents and skills might be,” she explained. “The impact of others in the community called me to grow, called me to be more; and I did grow, and I kept growing.”
That community of expansive possibilities for all its members was and is the result of what Sister Patricia calls “an evolving heritage.” “What is a heritage?” she asked; “It begins with the roots, and the present and the future are so impacted by that.” She described two small schools, one Dominican in nature and one Lasallian, merging to form a community, which is a “pillar of both charisms.” What was so remarkable and so crucial to the success of Justin-Siena was its “response to changes,” she explained. “The school evolved with the times and responded when needed academically, athletically, artistically, spiritually, and with a mission of service.” Sister Patricia offered the development of the arts program over the years as an example. “Today’s performances are beyond belief! It just shows what a principled, values-based education can accomplish,” she remarked.
“What the mission is all about is just that,” she offered. “Constantly responding to challenges and changes, constantly responding to the needs of citizens of the world. In the past, Napa was isolated, but no longer. Today, Justin-Siena is a school in the world, and its students are citizens of the world who, in being all that they can be, have embraced that global vision.”
“My first memory of Justin-Siena is driving up the valley during the Atlas Peak Fire of 1981 in a truck loaded with all of my belongings. I couldn’t believe the amount of smoke, nor the devastation I encountered and which I later discovered was experienced by many of my students who had lost everything,” Sister remembered. “But I also associated that fire with the fire of life and the heritage of the school where I was making a new beginning. It’s a Dominican image found in a well-known quotation of Catherine of Siena: ‘Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.’ We have much to share that will really make a difference in individual lives and in the greater society.”
Brother Conrad Kearney, FSC
Instructor and Librarian from 1968–2003
Distinguished Lasallian Educator of the District of San Francisco in 1999
“I was very happy in the 34 years I spent at Justin-Siena,” Br. Conrad began. “Happy living out the mission of the Brothers,” he continued; “It has always been the mission of the Brothers to provide a good Catholic education to the students entrusted to our care, and to prepare them for leadership beyond high school.” Brother Conrad explained that doing what one was called to do is the essence of happiness.
He is perhaps remembered most for his tenure as Librarian at Justin-Siena, but Brother Conrad also taught English, speech and debate, dramatics, and forensics. He was a part of the Justin-Siena Brothers Community, which also offered a source of happiness. “There were at one time 13 brothers at Justin-Siena,” he remembered, “a community of men dedicated to their mission. It was inspiring.” Brother Conrad went on to describe the larger community of the school: “Being a part of a dedicated faculty working with remarkable students was a great source of happiness. We were all different, but together we formed a community.”
Brother Conrad came to Justin-Siena in 1968 when it was still two schools. One of his earliest memories of the school relates to the building of the campus: “When the school was being built, there was no Maher Street, no houses, it was just a wide-open field. To get in, you had to enter about where the Fire House is today, and drive across the dirt field, windows closed of course, to avoid the dust!” Brother explained that despite the hardships of those early years, the dedication of the founders and founding families and students made it work. “The school has changed so much since then—tremendous changes,” he remarked.
Those physical changes are most notable in the transformation of the Library, which was housed in several locations until it found its permanent home in the Gasser Center, dedicated in 2001. It was as Librarian beginning in 1974 that Brother Conrad was most able to live out the heritage of the Brothers as he interacted with students on a daily basis. “It was a nice way of relating with them—more than just business and learning,” he said. “We often were able to chat and joke and form real relationships; I’ve kept in touch with many grads over the years.” One quote Brother Conrad used with students in helping them with their searches was from Samuel Johnson: “The next best thing to knowing something is knowing where to find it.” In a search for happiness, it seems Brother knew where to find it and how to guide others in the same direction.
Brother George Van Grieken, FSC ’70
Member of the first graduating Class of 1970 and Coordinator of the Lasallian Resource Center at Mont La Salle
“The word welcoming implies a certain way of being—being together and being for others,” Brother George explained. “One thing that people have often commented on over the years is the courtesy of the Justin-Siena student body. As one of the members of the very first class of Justin High School, we just didn’t know how to be anything else,” he said. “We were genuinely happy to be here, so we wanted to share that happiness.”
Brother George described the mission at Justin-Siena as the foundation of this welcoming spirit. “The school has always been here to provide a quality, personal education for students and families within a caring environment, a relaxing community experience,” he noted, “where students are supported by others to be who they were meant to be.” He added, “Fifty years out, I am not able to provide the quadratic equation off the top of my head or obscure historical dates or the complete periodic table, but I learned that I can trust other people, and those people will be there as a community beyond myself. The background, the staging, the opportunities are all wrapped in the context of how God is an integral part of the picture.”
“The heritage of the Brothers and they themselves were impressive,” he remarked. “They created this comfortable, personal, and welcoming experience, and yet they were able to hold us and themselves accountable to a higher standard.” Brother George’s connection to Justin-Siena is unique. His journey from freshman student at the opening of Justin High School to his graduation as a member of its first graduating class in 1970 provided him with the perspective of a student impacted by the heritage of the Christian Brothers. His subsequent journey in becoming a Christian Brother continued that heritage which he lives out now in his service to the mission.
“Here’s to Justin-Siena for her endurance as a wonderful community,” Brother George began, “and here’s to all who have been a part of this community for the past 50 years—brothers, sisters, priests, faculty, staff, parents, students, and supporters of all kinds who helped to make this special place possible. And here’s to those who will benefit in the future!”
Brother Conrad shared, “Thank God for the first 50 years—may the next 50 years be as rich and successful as the first!”
“I toast those men and women,” Sister Patricia affirmed, “who enabled the school to survive so that it might thrive, especially brothers, sisters, faculty, parents, and community supporters—to all of us who have built this place and created a heritage upon a heritage!”
In a word—Amen!