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Remembering Our Founding Principal, Sr. Carol Quinn, OP

Eileen Mize, Director of Communications
In the midst of a yearlong celebration of the 50th anniversary of our founding, Justin-Siena mourns the loss of an early pioneer in school history.
The founding principal of Siena High School and an integral figure in the merger of Justin and Siena High Schools, Sister Carol Quinn, died peacefully at Our Lady of Lourdes Convent in San Rafael on Tuesday, September 27, 2016. She was a Dominican Sister of San Rafael for 62 years.

Virginia Marie Quinn was born in 1930 in Stockton, California and was educated by the Dominican Sisters from first grade through college. She graduated from Dominican College (now University) in San Rafael in 1952, earning an undergraduate degree majoring in biology and minoring in chemistry, and in 1964 she received a master’s degree in biochemistry. After entering the convent, Sister Carol completed her teaching credential. A model educator with a commitment to lifelong learning, she continued to take graduate courses in science at the University of California and in mathematics from Stanford University.

For almost fifty years she was a dedicated educator who taught science, math and religion to high school and college students in San Rafael, Monterey, Napa, and Vallejo. Justin-Siena owes a debt of gratitude for her faith and vision in bringing the first Catholic high school to Napa.

In 1963 the Most Reverend Leo T. Maher, DD, the first Bishop of the Diocese of Santa Rosa, asked the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael to staff a girls high school while he charged the Christian Brothers with building a boys school on adjacent property. Construction began in February 1966 and opened for classes on September 13 later that year, each school with only a freshman class of 49 students. The late Brother Bede Van Duran, FSC served as founding principal of Justin High School and Sr. Carol Quinn, OP served as founding principal of Siena High School. In addition to her administrative duties, Sr. Carol taught math and science.

From a previous interview Sister Carol recalled the warm welcome from the Napa community. “What I enjoyed most were the people of the valley—we felt so welcome and felt so needed. We felt that we could make a difference in people’s lives.” She cared deeply about her students, supporting them personally as well as academically. Some of her former students can attest to that care.

Lucy Salazar Allen ’72 shared, “Sr. Carol was a pioneer woman from the beginning, a unique presence in countless lives. Heaven has a new star!” Susan Ianziti Shifflett ’72 said, “Sr. Carol was exceptional as a principal. She had a great sense of humor, and was very real and fair. I think those qualities earned her a lot of respect from both students and peers. She certainly was a good role model during her years at Siena.” Carol Rinehart Minahan ’74 who lives in New Hampshire now recalls Sr. Carol as a “joyful presence” during her four years at Justin-Siena.

Tammy Borges Blackseth ’72 agrees and had total respect and admiration for Sr. Carol. “I remember her on one knee with a pair of scissors, snipping the stitches of a non-regulatory length hem of a Siena student's skirt—while the student was still in it! But what was more remarkable was that she had the grace and wisdom to know when to look the other way. These traits make a strong leader and I felt safe under that leadership. I never thanked her enough. Her life was a witness to an enduring and loving walk with God through Christ.”

Molly Gerlach LeMaster ’74 recalls “Sr. Carol was always interested to hear about what was happening with my family and me as we would bump into each other over the years.” As timing would have it, Sr. Carol left Justin-Siena the same year Molly graduated for a science teaching position at Dominican College so Molly went on to become a neighbor of Sr. Carol’s living in the dorm Fanjeaux Hall and had her for botany.

Martha Maggetti Gabrielli ’72 remembers, “Sr. Carol was our chaperone on our high school trip to Europe, and she was amazing. She was such a good sport and gave us a lot of freedom, probably more than she should have. Since I met my husband, Earl, on that trip we asked Sr. Carol to bring the gifts to the altar at our wedding. I have such fond memories of her.” Nancy Bowman McGann ’72 was also on that European trip, and also remembers the care and trust with which Sr. Carol treated her students. As the story goes, this trip, which was made in tandem with boys from Justin High School and Christian Brothers High School in Sacramento who were led by Br. Joseph, resulted in five thriving marriages. Talk about the trip of a lifetime!

Sr. Carol played a key role in the merger of Justin and Siena, and thereby paved the way for the thriving campus we enjoy today. Justin-Siena President Robert Jordan commends her courage and vision. “The steadfast commitment to education shown by the Dominican Sisters for centuries is an inspiration to school leaders today and a heritage which we are proud to claim as part of our own. Sr. Carol’s pioneering efforts in providing a Catholic education to the young people of Napa and beyond laid the foundation for the mission we carry on today. A leader in math and science education in her own right, Sr. Carol was a role model and a woman ahead of her time. Her collaboration with the Christian Brothers for the common good of educating the youth showed a level of foresight that without, we would likely not be celebrating our 50th Anniversary this year. We are indebted to her service and hope she’s enjoying a reunion with Brother Bede about now.”

Exactly fifty years and two weeks to the day of our school’s first day of class, Sr. Carol joins those members of our school’s history who have gone before. We know she would be proud of today’s thriving student body, and we know she’ll be smiling down on us as we celebrate our school’s fifty-year milestone and a legacy of excellence in Catholic education set in motion in part, by her.

A funeral Mass will take place on Tuesday, October 4 at 10:00 am in the Gathering Space at Dominican Sisters Center, 1520 Grand Avenue in San Rafael. Burial will follow at St. Dominic Cemetery in Benicia.

Memorial gifts in Sr. Carol’s honor may be made to any of the ministries at which she served. In memory of her service as the founding principal of Siena High School, gifts may be made to Justin-Siena online at http://www.justin-siena.org/memorial or sent to Justin-Siena Honor and Memorial Gifts, 4026 Maher Street, Napa, CA 94558.
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    • Principal and teacher Sister Carol Quinn in 1966

    • Pictured in 1966 at the school opening with founding Principals Sister Carol Quinn, OP of Siena High School (center) and Brother Bede Van Duran, FSC of Justin High School (right) with Bishop Leo Maher (left), the first Bishop of the Diocese of Santa Rosa and for whom the street on which Justin-Siena resides today is named—Maher Street.

    • Sr. Carol and Br. Bede dispense awards at Siena Awards Day held in the Siena gymnasium which today is called Siena Hall. (circa 1967)

    • Principal Sister Carol

    • Science teacher/principal Sister Carol Quinn, OP in a Siena Science lab circa 1967

    • Principal Sister Carol

    • Sr. Carol and Br. Bede dispense awards at Siena Awards Day held in the Siena gymnasium which today is called Siena Hall. (circa 1967)

    • A glimpse of the Siena Campus in 1966 from Maher Street looking north toward the former Dominican Convent which is today home to the Student Residence.

    • Pictured in 1966 at the school opening with founding Principals Sister Carol Quinn, OP of Siena High School (left) and Brother Bede Van Duran, FSC of Justin High School (right) with Bishop Leo Maher (center), the first Bishop of the Diocese of Santa Rosa and for whom the street on which Justin-Siena resides today is named—Maher Street.

Justin-Siena High School

Justin-Siena is a Catholic high school in the Lasallian tradition offering a college preparatory program that serves young men and women in grades 9–12.