Fr. Edward B. Rooney, SJ, the Jesuit Education Association director who inspected SI in 1938, made a return inspection in 1950. His report praised SI as “unquestionably one of the outstanding Jesuit high schools in the United States … for many years now, it has been building up a fine reputation in the local community and it continues to merit and to enjoy this reputation.”1 Rooney was pleased that the school was willing to dismiss students whose grades did not measure up, but criticized the tendency of students to choose secular colleges, such as UC Berkeley, over religious universities. He also found disturbing the shaky financial ground upon which the high school stood. He cited the “substantial deficits,” and pointed out that USF, which in past years had been supported by the high school, was not, in turn, SI’s benefactor. (USF in the 1950s was enjoying tremendous success thanks to the GI Bill and veterans returning to their studies.)
Rooney recommended that the school adopt and follow annual budgets and raise tuition. He warned that if USF and SI were ever to separate, the high school would be in financial straits. The following summer, SI Treasurer Edward Zeman, SJ, informed parents that the school would raise tuition to $135 per year.
The school also began taking seriously the notion of separation from USF, something that had been initially discussed at the turn of the century. As USF’s and SI’s missions became more specifically focused, this split seemed a natural thing. In fact, the two other province schools that had started as combination college-high schools — Loyola and Santa Clara — both had broken off their preparatory divisions years previous, Bellarmine in 1925 and Loyola High School in 1929. The reasons for those separations were (as Gerald McKevitt, SJ, wrote about the split between Bellarmine and SCU) “as numerous as they were obvious.” In his history of SCU, McKevitt noted that “as late as 1915 there were 350 colleges and universities in the United States that still retained ‘prep’ schools, but such arrangements were becoming increasingly anachronistic.” After Santa Clara adopted the title of “university,” the school’s faculty resented “the intolerable anomaly of a university frequented by boys in knickerbockers.” While that tension was lessened in San Francisco by the minor geographic separation between USF and SI, faculty and administrators at both schools saw the handwriting on the wall.2
As early as 1950, the SI and USF Jesuits were seriously looking at sites for the relocation of the high school. A memorandum dated November 13, 1950, noted two parcels: a 12-acre Laurel Hill site (now the Laurel Village Shopping Center), costing $450,000, and the 2-acre Masonic Avenue car-barn property, costing $75,000 on which the school considered building a gymnasium and playfield. This second site would allow the SI Jesuits to separate from the USF community “by the erection of a faculty building on the present High School site.”3
In 1955, the Jesuits of both schools, who were still living as one community in Welch Hall, took the first step toward canonical separation when they received a letter dated August 21, 1955, “to Jesuit superiors from Fr. Vincent McCormick, SJ, American Assistant to Fr. General John B. Janssens, in which he conveyed the latter’s decision that the two communities should eventually be so separated.”4
SI learned in 1957 of an 11-acre parcel in the Sunset District on which the San Francisco Unified School District had planned to build a high school. When the district abandoned its plans, the Jesuits at SI expressed interest in the rolling sand dunes between 37th and 38th Avenues and Pacheco and Riviera Streets. USF President John F.X. Connolly, SJ, approached Mayor George Christopher for help securing the property for SI. On August 11, 1958, Mayor Christopher wrote to Joseph A. Moore, president of the SFUSD Board of Education, encouraging the sale of the “surplus land” to SI and adding that “to this moment, no use has been found for this site.” He also warned that San Francisco was in danger of losing SI to another city “unless we are able to cooperate with the University of San Francisco in securing a new location for this time honored school.” If that were to happen, he added, “the burden of taking care of its student body may fall on the shoulders of San Francisco taxpayers.”5
While SI would not purchase that land until 1964 (at a price of $2 million), the stage had been set for the school’s move to its sixth site. In the meantime, USF and SI prepared for the eventual move by formally separating on July 1, 1959, as distinct corporations and Jesuit communities after receiving permission from the Father General, thus ending a 104-year relationship between high school and college. Fr. Patrick J. Carroll, SJ ’31, became president of St. Ignatius High School and rector of the 40-member SI Jesuit community. (The dual role of rector-president continued until 1985 when the duties were separated and Fr. Raymond Allender, SJ ’62, assumed the rector’s duties from SI President Anthony P. Sauer, SJ.) Fr. Carroll, who had taught at SI from 1938 to 1941, served as assistant to the provincial prior to this appointment.6
Not every Jesuit was happy to see the two schools part ways. Br. Daniel Peterson, SJ, librarian at SI between 1975 and 2000 and later province archivist, was a student at USF in 1959 during the separation. He recalls his teacher, Fr. Ray Feely, SJ, coming into the classroom, shaking his head and complaining. “They took our preparatory department away from us,” he told the class. “He was in a foul mood all day. He thought it was a terrible decision, but I suspect his was a minority opinion.”