Birth of the BSU

Fr. Buckley, SI’s president, noted in the September 1972 Genesis that “today there is a strong emphasis in secondary education on areas of study outside the merely academic. This emphasis finds an echo in the traditional Jesuit philosophy of training graduates who have internalized attitudes of deep and universal compassion for the poor, the victims of injustice, and those in our society who suffer oppression. We plan bold new programs this year to realize better our own Jesuit tradition….”

Those programs included SI Outbound and something new to the SI landscape: the Black Students Union. The BSU reflected the times and the needs of the students and was the first of many ethnic-based clubs to start at SI in the 1970s. (The Black Students Union in 1992 changed its name to the Association of African American Students.) Other organizations included the Spanish Club (later called the Association of Latin American Students), the Asian Students Coalition, the Irish Club and the Italian Club. Some of these groups had their origin in the Civil Rights movement and in the growing sense that Jesuit schools needed to support the rights of and provide equal opportunity for underrepresented groups. The first of these clubs, the BSU, began as a response to a parody of Huckleberry Finnthat appeared in 1970 in Soph Press, a short-lived sophomore publication. The parody included the N-word and drew strong reaction from African American students, including Eric Goosby ’70.

The following year, two students — Timothy Alan Simon ’73 and Welton Flynn ’71— began talking about the need for a support group for black students at SI. Simon’s sister, a Presentation High School grad and a student at San Francisco State University, was involved with activists there, and Simon met many of them around his parents’ dining room table discussing Ralph Ellison and W.E.B. DuBois. “It was a vibrant time for intellectual discourse,” said Simon. “I was surrounded by black nationalistic thought, and I saw the need for black students at SI to have resources that we could utilize to increase our academic success.”

Before the club formed, Simon, Flynn and others participated in forums, moderated by Scott Wood, Chuck Murphy and Bill Kennedy, regarding the need for such a support group. “Many white students asked why we needed to have a separate organization,” said Simon. “Now that I’m 49, I see that their arguments were sincere. SI was there for all of us. But we still faced racism. For example, we had no courses that put any focus on contributions from African Americans who gave 300 years of slave labor to build this country. On a more personal level, we were rarely invited to parties, and interracial dating was still a big issue.”

Simon, now an attorney, law professor and elected member of the San Francisco Republican County Committee, found supporters in SI Principal Edward McFadden, SJ, counselor (and future Regent) Lou Giraudo ’64, English teacher Scott Wood and Fr. Cornelius Buckley, SJ. “Scott Wood did so much for us. What a saint,” said Simon. “Also, Fr. Buckley and I met on a regular basis. This relationship continued through my collegiate and law school years. My family was from Louisiana and drenched in Francophone culture. This was a scholarly interest of Fr. Buckley’s.” Later, when Steve Phelps joined the faculty in 1972, his long history of working with African American students led Fr. McFadden to make him BSU moderator. Phelps also coached the BSU basketball team that competed in the CYO Teenage Leagues.

Simon felt tremendous support from the Society of Jesus and the Church. “The BSU became in many ways an outreach of Jesuit ministry,” he noted. “Fr. Buckley recognized that our pursuits were not only honorable but also reflective of Christ’s teachings. We were even featured on a television program on what is now KBHK, hosted by famed Bay Area and national journalist Sam Skinner.”

English teacher Frank Kavanagh ’46 also provided support for the group in its first year of existence (1971–72) by donating his collection of black literature to the students. “He came into the English Center, where we started holding meetings, holding a box of books,” said Simon. “Then he asked us to come to his car for more boxes.” The group then appointed Alan Robinson ’73 as librarian, and he wasted no time in creating a Library of Congress Card Catalogue system. “He would track you down if you were overdue in returning a book,” recalled Simon.

The club used those books to help educate its members on black history and culture, offering book report presentations on The Invisible Man and poetry presentations by Jerome Williams ’75 and Gregory Sullivan ’73. The group invited political activists visiting the U.S. from Angola and Mozambique to speak to students, and in the 1972–73 school year, they began working with other schools to help them form their own BSUs. They even held a Saturday gathering at SI bringing 100 students from Northern California to the school for an all-day conference featuring Raye Richardson, the owner of Marcus Bookstore in San Francisco. African American students came from El Cerrito, Stockton and Seaside to listen to him and to a host of student speakers.

In 1972, the club became officially sanctioned and joined the Student Council. Still, some students continued to resent Simon for creating a club that they believed divided the SI community along color lines. “When Bill Kennedy read off grades in class one day, I heard a hiss from some students when he got to my name. He stopped right there and said, ‘I want to take my hat off to these students for creating the BSU and for discussing racism at SI.’ In his own quirky way, he was an extraordinary supporter of our cause.”

Simon worked hard to keep academics the focus of the club, and he praised Xonie Lloyd ’73 and future BSU leaders Burl Toler ’74, Rod Carter ’74, Jerome Williams ’75, Kevin Goosby ’77, Juan Mitchell ’75, Michael Bowie ’75 and others for picking up the baton. “Those guys were in the top of the class from the day they stepped on campus.”

That the BSU is active in the new millennium is a testament to its success. Simon praised the support given it by parents, who now have their own organization at SI — the Parents of the Association of African American Students (PAAAS). “Black parents in the early days of the BSU did not always support us,” he added. “They felt we were putting a top-rated education at risk by challenging students on issues of race. Now the parents, along with alumni and students, support the organization wholeheartedly, and the BSU has helped many students excel. That is the group’s lasting legacy and what makes it a proud part of the Ignatian tradition.”

A few key events define the era for Simon. “When Eric Goosby ’70 (who served as AIDS Czar in the Clinton administration) started wearing an afro, that was a major event. He identified with his African American roots. Timothy’s cousin Gerald Simon ’72 (who would become the Fire Chief for Santa Clara and Oakland) was a mentor and exemplar for all of us, especially for freshmen who found coming to SI a tough transition from their grammar schools. The BSU helped students matriculate, which sounds like a contradiction. How can you matriculate if you separate yourself? But through the process of separating, we found common issues and common solutions. We couldn’t have found those otherwise. I think that’s why other ethnic groups formed.”

SI made a commitment in 1972 to support African American students at SI by hiring Susan Johnson, a Boalt Hall Law Student and the first African American woman to join SI’s faculty, as a part-time teacher of Afro-American literature. The school also hired a young blond-haired coach named Steve Phelps, whom colleagues later nicknamed the White Shadow after a popular TV show.

A USF grad, Phelps had earlier worked at Hunter’s Point and in the Fillmore District as a recreation director. He encouraged some of his best kids to apply to SI and other academically strong high schools. When he approached Fr. McFadden in 1969, the principal told Phelps that SI would accept as many kids as he could send. Phelps insisted that SI offer services to students from these neighborhoods to help them survive in a culture very different from their own and help students preserve their racial identities. “SI wisely agreed,” said Phelps, and as a result, SI had, and still has, a higher retention rate of students of color than other schools.

In 1973, Phelps also started SI Uplift, a summer school program designed to improve diversity at SI. That program, now called Magis, is still in existence at SI, under the direction of Emily Behr ’93, the first member of the pioneer coed class to work full time at SI, and her assistant, Chris Delaney, a faculty member since 2003.

In the early days of SI Uplift, Phelps hired a dozen inner-city high school students as teacher aids and afternoon counselors and paid them with Neighborhood Youth Corp funds. Some of these aids were SI students and members of the BSU. The first group of grade school students in the program went from 100 to 150 from the first to second year. “This program and the growing number of African-American athletes at SI gave SI street cred in the community,” said Phelps. “I personally went to Catholic grade schools and in the Fillmore and recruited students. St. Brendan and St. Anne were big feeder schools, as was St. Peter, All Hallows, Sacred Heart, St. Michael, Mission Dolores and Holy Names. I also brought in students from public schools, which was not a big hit at SI. In the early years I followed this formula: one third of the Uplift students were white, a third were Black, and a third were Hispanic and Asian. We eventually changed the name to Summer Prep. Both Aim High and Summerbridge were founded from this program. Lick founded Aim High and spent a couple of weeks studying the way we ran Uplift. University founded Summerbidge and also spent time observing what we did. Both schools put less emphasis on athletics and were coed. After a couple of years the Jesuits decided to support this program with Scholastics from varying provinces in the U.S. I learned how to drive the school bus because of this program as I needed a bus for the summer and had no driver.” (See the chapter on the 1990s to see how Uplift became Magis.)

The Rise of Other Ethnic Clubs

Phelps served as BSU moderator for nine years starting in 1972. In 1973 two freshmen approached him looking to form their own organization — the Asian Students Coalition (ASC). Phelps agreed to serve as moderator and soon found himself advising 50 students who modeled their club along the same lines as the BSU. Soon after that, the Spanish Club started at SI, which later changed its name to the Association of Latin-American Students (ALAS), and the Italian Club also formed.

From the onset, students at SI debated the usefulness of these ethnic clubs. Some wondered if they exacerbated, rather than healed, divisions among students. “The merits of the BSU are debatable,” wrote one student in a 1972 Inside SI article. “A more serious conflict might arise from the formation of the Irish Students Union, who, although they claim that no mockery is intended [of] the BSU, exist as a living statement to say that they do not want a Black Students Union at SI.”

Timothy Simon, who founded the BSU, nevertheless supported the Irish Student Union. “I was educated by the Daughters of Mary and Joseph at St. Michael the Archangel. They were predominately Irish among many Irish students and parish members, and that helped me become sensitive to the plight of the Irish. Black students felt an oppression similar to theirs. Some people opposed the formation of the ISU, but I supported it. Why shouldn’t they get together and celebrate their culture just as we were doing?”

Bill Love ’59 & the Environmental Movement

The modern environmental movement began in the early 1960s with the publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. In the 1970s, SI’s own Peter Raven ’53 (now the director of the Missouri Botanical Garden) warned against the twin dangers of rainforest deforestation and species eradication. At SI, Bill Love ’59 was leading the charge to help students grow as stewards of the planet. In 1972 he participated in a unique program in environmental education with the public elementary schools’ Science Resource Center. Each week, he took grammar school students to Lake Merced to study the flora and fauna, guided by SI students who had taken Love’s Field Ecology course. Those same Ignatians then visited grammar schools to continue the lessons regarding pollution and habitat preservation and tried to provide students, according to Love, “with a new set of standards — a measure stick — which they can apply to their home environments.”

Ambient, an environmental club that stressed recycling, formed on January 29, 1972, “with member Tom Yasumura standing in front of the school building, anxiously awaiting the arrival of the first [member]. His patience was well-rewarded as senior Nick Carouba drove up and left a trunk-load of cans and bottles at his feet.”5 Ambient continued over the years, and the group, now called the SI Environmental Club, focuses on recycling, native plant restoration, reduction of consumption and composting.

Newspapers, Magazines, Radio & TV

Inside SI continued to publish for the first half of the 1970s, but it took a six-year hiatus between 1975 and 1981. The SI administration ended its long run in favor of a new publication — a tabloid newspaper first called SI News (for the first five issues), and then The 2001 before a final name change to The OceanSIder in 1979 when rookie faculty member Michael Shaughnessy won the Name That Paper Contest with that offering. (The winning prize in that contest was a six-pack of “his favorite beer.”) In 1981, the name changed back to Inside SI and the publication has come out in both magazine and tabloid formats since then.

For the final edition of Inside SI in 1975, students went all-out and printed a 104-page magazine with a full-color cover and featuring a Stonehenge game (based on lectures on that topic by Fr. Spohn) and a bumper sticker. All the work was done in-house, from typesetting to printing and binding, with students using the printing presses, carbon arcs, process cameras and light tables. After 1975, all production for student publications occurred off campus.

In October 1973, a new media outlet broadcast at SI when KZIC (later called KRSI) went into operation. The radio station was actually a public address system with two speakers in the Carlin Commons that “broadcast” during the two lunch periods. After Mark Roos ’75 set up the equipment, the station took requests from its collection of 38 records. Also, SITV debuted in 1971 when Mr. Art Encinas, SJ, set up a TV studio in a classroom. It expanded in February 1974, when students in an advanced television production course, taught by Br. Sullivan, broadcast 10-minute news shows in the Carlin Commons at lunch twice each week.

Other Clubs

By 1979, in addition to the clubs mentioned above, students had a wide selection of groups they could join. In 1975, Fr. Russell Roide, SJ, SI’s new president, created the Service Club as a way for students who weren’t members of the Block Club to serve the school. Students had to have good grades and recommendations from teachers. They wore blue blazers with the Service Club emblem and came to school events to serve as ushers and hosts. Since then, the Service Club has become one of the most active organizations at SI.

Gone were the Sanctuary Society (1975) and the Sodality (which became the CLCs), but according to the Ignatians from those years, the following organizations were going strong: CLCs, Block Club, Service Club, CSF, Forum, Cheerleaders, Art and Publicity, Dance Committee, Spirit Club, Rally Committee, Math Club, Frosh Press, Science Fiction Club, Military Service Club, Liturgy Group, Chess Club, Rod and Gun Club, Computer Club, Language Club, Stage Crew, Ski Club, Bike Club, and intramurals.

Cultural Renaissance at SI

From its earliest years, SI has been a school that has stressed the fine arts, and the student musicals and plays throughout the years showed a commitment to excellence by the students and directors. In the 1970s and 1980s, that strong tradition provided a foundation for a remarkable cultural renaissance at SI, one involving four outstanding teachers who inspired students to excel in music, drama and the visual arts.

Janet & Nicholas Sablinsky ’64

The first band was formed at SI on Feb. 12, 1874, “to cultivate music for innocent social enjoyment and to add solemnity to civil and religious festivals” and was directed by Mr. L. Von der Mehden.6 That the school did not assemble the band each year is evidenced by a 1962 Inside SI story on the school’s reconstituted band program, then in its second year: “Perhaps you don’t realize this, but SIdoes have a band. It is young and small, but dedicated. Our band practices forty minutes a day to be able to play for our enjoyment at school functions…. This year the band plans a formal concert, perhaps a joint concert with Riordan, and a Pops Concert. The Pops Concert will probably be held in December with guest artists, professional singers and all types of music.”

Before 1972, SI student musicians played in a concert band primarily at the rallies and games, performing Sousa marches and the fight song. All that changed when SI hired Nick Sablinsky ’64. As a student, he had played piano and percussion for the 20-piece SI band, led by Dennis Monk. Now, he felt, SI needed a full-fledged orchestra, and he combined students from the girls’ schools with SI boys to perform for Fiddler on the Roof in 1973. (That show, performed at SI, was directed by Peter Devine ’66 who was then teaching at Convent of the Sacred Heart.) In prior years, adult musicians were brought in for the shows, and this was the first SI musical to feature an all-student orchestra, according to Sablinsky.

For the next five years, SI musicians had a busy spring. After they played in the spring musical, they put on a spring concert. That changed in 1978 with the introduction of the Winter Pops Concert, which also featured the SI Jazz Band.

Nick’s wife, Janet, served as a vocal coach starting in 1972, and in 1992 SI hired her to start a formal choral program. In the first year she directed one large choral group that over the years has branched into the advanced Chamber Singers, the Men’s Choir, the Men’s Quartet, the Mixed Chorus and the Women’s Chorus. In 1994 she introduced the Handbell Choir to the Winter Pop’s repertoire and added a spring choral concert to the litany of shows at SI.

For many students, the highlight of their four years here has been playing for Nick or singing for Janet Sablinsky in such shows as The King and I (1977),Cabaret (1985), 1776 (1987), My Fair Lady (1988), Evita (1996) and The Secret Garden (1998). The Winter Pops Concert features nearly 200 singers and musicians and is a perennial highlight of the school year. In their 30-plus years at SI, the Sablinskys have fashioned one of the best high school music programs in the country, and future students will profit from their talent, energy and commitment.

Peter Devine ’66

Peter Devine ’66 directed his 100th play, Man of La Mancha, in 1998 after a remarkable 25-year run as director of SI’s theatre department. His love of the theatre began when his mother took him to see Mary Martin in the stage playPeter Pan when he was 5 years old. “When I saw her fly through the doors into Wendy’s room, I was hooked on theatre,” said Devine. “That was pure magic.”

Devine was steeped in theatre, too, through his relatives. His granduncle Martin Merle served as drama director at SCU and directed the school’s annual Mission and Passion plays and the 1925 Pageant of Youth in San Francisco. Another granduncle, Martin Flavin, won the Pulitzer Prize for writing the Broadway playThe Criminal Code.

As a young actor at SI, Devine performed in many plays including Arsenic and Old Lace, Oklahoma and Margo and Me. “He was an inspiration for me,” said Ron Lagomarsino ’69, who directed the Tony-Award winning play Last Night of Ballyhoo. “He was the lead in several plays when I was a freshman, and he was wonderful and very funny. He was in the first play I ever saw, and he made me want to work in the theatre.”

The City of San Francisco publicly recognized Devine for his contribution to the school and to the city in 1987 when it awarded him a citation and issued a proclamation. One year later, he received another, and perhaps greater, distinction when Herb Caen waxed eloquently in his column about Devine’s production of My Fair Lady. “The best entertainment in our town last week was not in the usual haunts but at 37th and Rivera in the Sunset … where a wildly talented bunch of teenagers from that school did nightly performances of My Fair Lady at a level not far below professional. A lot of people in the audience were moved to observe that ‘There’s nothing wrong with the kids of today!’ which is certainly as true as most clichés. They may even be better than the kids of yesterday, despite the bad press they get so often. All I know is that the senior class at Sacramento High in 1932 never came close to putting on anything resembling the ambitious show at St. Ignatius last week.”

After graduating from SI, Devine continued to perform at USF while also majoring in English and theatre. He went on to study at the American Conservatory Theatre and later received his teaching credential. He has continued his drama studies at various workshops, including ones at ACT, Stanford, SCU and the Good Speed Opera House in Connecticut.

Devine joined the SI faculty in 1974 after working at Convent of the Sacred Heart and Mercy where he staged musicals featuring students from those schools acting alongside SI boys. Students in his program flourished, Devine noted, “because we did a number of shows every year and because we took what we did seriously. We respected students and the dignity of their work. I think that rubs off on them, and they learn to respect themselves as artists and as human beings.”

Those who worked with Devine feel the same way toward him. Faculty member Kevin Quattrin ’78, who oversees the backstage crew, got his start building sets for Devine back in the 1970s. “Peter’s approach to teaching has always been that the student comes first,” said Quattrin. “He teaches the person, not just the subject. Working with him in the theatre has taught me more about humanity and ministry than anything else in my life.”

Devine believes students create both spiritual and artistic communities in the two downstairs theatres at SI. For example, on the closing night of his spring musicals, the students gathered for an end-of-the-year Mass in the theatre. “The junior who had been in the program the longest led the seniors from the stage to the seats to mark the fact that they would never again walk those boards as actors. They were, from that point on, part of the audience at SI and had to find another theatre. The juniors, sophomores and freshmen then gave them their blessing.”

Thanks to foundations built by Devine and those who came before him, the theatre department continues to thrive under the leadership of Marc Bauman, who joined SI in 2000.

Katie Wolf

In 1977, Katie Wolf offered to develop a course of study in visual arts for SI students. Kate was a St. Rose graduate who had studied fine arts at Santa Clara University and had earned an MFA at the San Francisco Art Institute. She had acted in plays at SI and, later, assisted Peter Devine by designing sets. For nearly 30 years, she has developed curriculum and taught the creative process to thousands of young artists whose work has earned national honors.

“I had great visions of presenting a variety of art styles that would generate the students’ interest in the process of creativity,” she wrote in a Genesis II story. “Who wouldn’t get excited about works by Picasso, Matisse, Magritte, Miro and Munch? I remember presenting posters of abstract and non-objective paintings for class critique, hoping to stir up some insightful discussions on color, form, line quality and feeling. I was rather surprised when a student called upon had the following comment: ‘Miss Wolf, why is that art? My 8-year-old sister could paint something like that!’ I then realized I had some attitudes to change….”7

Since 1978, Wolf has taught several classes, including Art and Architecture, 3D Studies, Studio Art, Sacred Symbols, and Art and Nature, taking students on an inner journey to discover their own creativity and on hundreds of journeys beyond the school walls to see art firsthand in museums and buildings around the Bay Area.

In the 1990s she led a summer workshop for students who designed large-scale outdoor pieces that are on permanent display around the school. In the summer of 2003, she and a group of students were artists in residence at the NorCal Transfer Station near Candlestick Park where they transformed trash into works of art. In 1993 the San Francisco Unified School District honored her as the Outstanding Art Teacher of the Year and featured the work of SI students at the de Young Museum. St. Mary’s Cathedral also chose her to be its official fabric artist for San Francisco’s cathedral, and all the banners and in that building are her creations. Her work ranges from environmental fabric designs at St. Mary’s to stained-glass pieces, steel sculpture and Byzantine icons in intimate sacred spaces. She redesigned Jensen Chapel on the SI campus in 2003 when the school moved that facility from the second floor to the Student Activities Center, and her work incorporated her sense of the natural and the sacred.

Wolf is a working artist who continues her personal expression through printmaking, large format acrylic canvases, theatrical set design and the design and construction of wearable art. She also spent her 2003–2004 sabbatical year investigating ways sustainability and nature could enter into the artistic process. From her studies, she designed a new course that asks students to involve those concepts in their sculpture to experience “nature as master designer” and to help students “experience growth in awareness of the creative process.”

Nostalgia at the Prep

In the 1970s, a nostalgia fad swept America. The play Grease (and later the movie) was making the rounds, as was Sha Na Na, a ’50s revival band. Locally, Butch Whacks and the Glass Packs, formed in 1971 at St. Mary’s College, featured Class of 1968 members Bob Sarlatte and Craig Martin as well as John Buick III ’70 who died in 1989. SI students began forming their own music groups. In 1971, Gary and the Greasers made their debut with Jim McManus, Charlie Caldarola, Tom McManus, Kevin Bravo, Joe Caldarola and Steve Aveson. “To round out the group,” reported an Inside SI article, was “vocalist Carol Devincenzi. If there was ever a cross between Janis Joplin and Grace Slick, here she is.”8(Devencenzi now teaches religious studies at SI.) In 1975 Johnny B. and the Speedshifters formed with members of the Class of ’75 that included Peter Radsliffe, Jim Lawrie, Tom Stone, John Bacchini, Julio Bandoni, John Agostini, Jean-Louis Casabonne, Jim Farrell and John Flynn. As a fun diversion, SI would occasionally hold “1950s Days” with students coming to school wearing slicked-back hair, rolled up cuffs and leather jackets.

The Blood Drive

Also in 1974, the school began a new tradition, one that continues to this day: the blood drive. From that year on, blood banks have visited SI to ask for volunteers from the student body, some of whom felt it served three purposes: getting out of class, munching on cookies and helping people in need.

President’s Award

In 1972, SI instituted the President’s Award, given each year at graduation “to a non-alumnus who has distinguished himself in some special manner in civic life and has aided St. Ignatius College Preparatory in realizing its goals and objectives.” The first recipient was Benjamin H. Swig who was honored as an “outstanding humanitarian, civic leader, hotelier, philanthropist and ecumenist.” The inscription read “Pace tanti viri” — “With due respect to so great a man.” Over the years, SI has given the award to a host of individuals, some who have served the school and others the greater community. The full list of winners appears in the appendix.10

Career Day

SI launched a new program on March 2, 1978, with the first Career Day, sponsored by the counseling department. More than 40 people — many of them alumni — representing 25 professions came to SI to speak to juniors. “Some students were discouraged by the prospect of eight or 10 more years of schooling required for certain professions, but most felt the requirements were realistic,” wrote English teacher Bob Grady and counselor Andy Dworak in the March 1978 edition of Genesis. The program continues under the direction of counselor Michael Thomas ’71 and is held every other year. In March 2003, 74 people came to speak at SI, 22 of whom were SI grads.

Night Classes for Parents

SI President Russell Roide, SJ, took seriously the job of communicating the Jesuit mission and vision to the broader community. He instituted a series of adult faith formation classes in the evenings for SI parents, taught by priests on the faculty. He also supported the Sunday Evening Liturgy and encouraged students to attend the Friday Morning Liturgies. Under his administration, the job of bringing Vatican II to life became more fully realized.