Fr. Richard McCurdy, SJ, who succeeded Fr. McFadden in 1976 as principal, attended high school in San Diego and had taught English and directed plays as a layman at SI between 1954 and 1956. He then entered the Society of Jesus and came back to teach at SI as a scholastic between 1962 and 1964. He returned in 1972 to serve as assistant principal for academics for a year and executive vice principal for a year. “I was lucky to be Fr. McFadden’s assistant. He, like me, had his eccentricities, but he taught me much more than anyone else about being a principal. I loved him and owe him a great deal.” Fr. McCurdy then left for Brophy in 1974 and returned to SI in 1976 to serve as principal, a job he held until 1981.
With each return, Fr. McCurdy felt delighted to work with colleagues, some of whom had been students of his. “In 1954, the only laymen aside from myself were J.B. Murphy, Frank Corwin and Rene Herrerias. But when I returned in the 1970s, I was teaching alongside Bob Drucker, Chuck Murphy and other familiar faces. By the time I was principal, I felt as if I knew everyone and had even hired a few of them. Being principal was like a homecoming for me.”
Thanks to Fr. McCurdy, academics continued to improve and SI began living up to its new name as a college preparatory. As a member of the Commission on Research and Development (a part of the Jesuit Secondary Education Association), Fr. McCurdy helped to pioneer what became known as the CIP — the Curriculum Improvement Process. In 1977, he started a yearlong reevaluation of what was taught at SI and how it was taught, and he asked Assistant Principal for Academics Steve Lovette ’63 to administer the self-study.
“As a result of the CIP, SI changed in many ways,” said Fr. McCurdy. “This was the first real step towards collegiality between Jesuits and lay people. Every member of the faculty was involved in the CIP. We met in departments and in larger groups to critique our curriculum and to relate it to the seminal documents coming out of the JSEA on faith and justice. We had to see if we were doing what Fr. Arrupe suggested we should be doing. It was tedious at times, looking at every single aspect of the school, but it was necessary.”
Students in 1978 probably didn’t notice too much of a change in their classes. “The classes didn’t change, but their focus did,” says Fr. McCurdy. “For instance, we wondered how to change math classes so that they could teach social justice. We wondered if word problems should deal with hunger or the percentage of disadvantaged in the world.”
Fr. McCurdy also briefly considered having SI become a coeducational school. “The biggest problem we faced was what the consequences would be for the girls’ schools.” He also stepped up his efforts to recruit students from diverse backgrounds. “When I came as a layman, the population was working class Italian and Irish. However, the composition of the city had changed, and I went to every grammar school each year to talk to principals to encourage their students to come to SI.”
Sr. Cathryn deBack, OP, principal at Sacred Heart School in the Fillmore, didn’t believe SI would be a welcoming place for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. “I told her I would accept any student she recommended,” said Fr. McCurdy. “She didn’t believe me. Still, she recommended some students, and I took them in. That was a breakthrough for her. Later, she came to SI to tutor students after school and that began her much stronger involvement with SI. She proved influential in talking with other principals, telling them that we meant what we said.”
McCurdy worked hard to keep the college preparatory from becoming preppy. “I was anxious that it should not turn elitist. I feared it might if we could not continue to diversify. I thought that taking in economically disadvantaged students was crucial” and toward that end he asked Steve Phelps to accelerate his recruitment efforts.
Fr. McCurdy continued the improvements to the counseling department inaugurated by Fr. McFadden. In the mid-1970s, Brian Robinson and Fr. Curtis Bryant, SJ, came to SI trained in counseling, and, as the school hired other trained counselors, the department grew more professional under Fr. Bryant’s direction. He also set up a mentoring program in which he trained students to run group discussions among freshmen to help them fit in, and he instituted an alcohol education program that debuted in early 1975.
The faculty never had a tenure process until Fr. McCurdy established a five-year renewable tenure system in 1977. “Teachers walked in to the tenure meetings feeling challenged but left feeling supported,” said Charlie Dullea, head of the English Department in the ’70s. “You had a chance to review your past few years and plan for the next five.”
Fr. McCurdy also lobbied the Board of Regents for permission to raise faculty salaries. “The trouble was that each time we raised salaries, tuition went up. This was at a time when I was doing everything I could to beg, borrow and steal scholarship money so poor students could come to SI. But we had to help our teachers as the salaries we were paying weren’t just.”
Fr. McCurdy praised Lovette for pushing through many of these needed changes. “He was absolutely wonderful. He has a love for the school that goes beyond what most people understand. I leaned on him tremendously. Everything that I’m proud of accomplishing, he was a big part of.” (Steve Lovette now serves the school as Vice President of Development.) Fr. McCurdy also praised several other faculty leaders, including Bob Drucker, Charlie Dullea, Chuck Murphy and Bill Morlock. He saved his highest praise for Fr. Carlin. “He made it possible for us to do all that we did. He is a great hero for me who worked unceasingly with great success. He stands in gigantic proportion, and SI is what it is thanks to him.”
McCurdy also hired his share of wonderful teachers, and he points to Peter Devine ’66 and Katie Wolf as two who helped SI advance in theatre arts and fine arts over the years. “In the 1950s, the arts were present but they were a bit extraneous. Thanks to Peter and Katie, they became an integral part of an SI education. They added to the great program that Nick Sablinsky began after Fr. McFadden hired him.”
McCurdy grew close to many students and faculty, and he treasures those relationships to this day. “I think of Stan Raggio ’73 and Burl Toler ’74, who were on the SI Board of Regents and have become great supporters of the school. And I appreciate those teachers who worked for so little in the beginnings of their careers. My greatest memory is the community that was formed by the Jesuits, faculty and students. That is what I most treasure.”
McCurdy developed a severe case of mononucleosis in 1980 and recommended that Fr. Mario Prietto, SJ, the assistant principal for student affairs, take over as principal the following year. “I’m very fond of Mario and thought he had great potential to lead the school. Fortunately, Fr. Sauer agreed.”
After SI, McCurdy served as assistant to the provincial for four years before going to Jesuit High School in Sacramento where he continues to work as an English teacher.