“I used to like typing with Sister [Mary] Flora,” said Virginia Arguello, a member of the class of 1943 at Sacred Heart High School, the all-girls secondary school in Lincoln Heights. “I didn’t take Spanish because I spoke Spanish all my life. And I was very good at sports. Mostly basketball, volley ball, softball. I loved basketball.”
Virginia was sitting around a large square table with her daughter, Diane Durazo, class of 1970, granddaughter, Stephany Durazo, class of 1996, and great-granddaughter, Jade Quiles, class of 2021.
That’s right! Four generations at Sacred Heart.
When asked if the Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose were strict, Virginia had a quick reply: “Well, not according to my mother.” That broke up the room. “There were a few I didn’t like. But, according to my mother, I wasn’t very good, either.”
Stephany was leaning forward. “Well, you sure turned out well.”
“Yes,” Virginia agreed, maybe referring to the 34 years she worked for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department as a court liaison.
What about friends? “Sacred Heart girls were the only friends I knew,” Virginia pointed out. “I never went to public school in my life.”
She remembered that her parents paid $3 tuition every month and how hard it was for her family to come up with that. Times were hard. Most Mexican families in the neighborhood couldn’t afford to send their children to parochial school. So there were very few Latinas at Sacred Heart back then.
After she graduated and got married, Virginia started sending her three girls to Sacred Heart High School and her three boys to Cathedral High School. “And they’re all pretty good kids as far as I’m concerned,” she said. “I have no complaints.”
Why did you send your girls to Sacred Heart?
A look creased her face: “Because I went there. I liked it. The nuns were nice. But they were the only sisters I’ve ever met.”
Did you walk to school?
Another look: “Yes. You think I had a car?”
Then-Sacred Heart Academy started as a boarding school. In 1907, a high school department was added to the grammar school, run by the Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose since 1890. The first high school graduating class was in 1911 with eight students. In 1949 — under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and Sacred Heart Parish — the academy became Sacred Heart High School. And in 1979, the high school became an archdiocesan high school.
When Diane came to Sacred Heart in the mid-’60s, there were many lay teachers. “But it was good,” she recalled. I liked it a lot.”
“If somebody asked you, ‘What school do you go to?’ and we told them, they would say, ‘Oh, my!’ ” Virginia said in a mock uppity voice.
Members of the four generations were smiling and shaking their heads up and down.
“Actually, yes,” Diane went on. “A lot of the kids wanted to come to Catholic school. They were envious that we came to Sacred Heart.
So why do you think your mother wanted you to go here?
“Because we didn’t know anything else,” Diane said with a shoulder shrug. “My grandmother thought the Catholic teachers were like the angels. She came up here from Mexico and she made tortillas. Then her husband got a job at the Pacific Railroad right here. And she bought three or four houses. So we live in one of them built in 1906.”
There were still few students from Mexico during Diane’s days at Sacred Heart. “When I came, there were Italians, Irish, Germans. Most of my friends were Italians.”
By the time Stephany arrived at the Lincoln Heights high school in 1992, the demographics had radically changed in favor of Hispanics. And there were very few Dominican Sisters teaching. “But it was nice.” When asked why she wanted her own daughter to attend Sacred Heart, Stephany started wiping her eyes and couldn’t speak.
Her mother, Diane, stepped in: “She’s proud of Jade, I think, for choosing this school. Her parents asked her where she wanted to go. She could have gone to [another school] nearby because quite a few of her friends went there. But she chose Sacred Heart. And we kept asking her, ‘Are you sure?’ We didn’t want her to come here just because we wanted her to. But she said it was to keep the tradition.”
Jade, the neophyte freshman, had been pretty silent, observing the intergenerational gathering. Now she was nodding. “Well, I wanted to continue it,” she said. “But also, like, if I came here it would be cool. Everybody would go, ‘Wow! You’re the fourth generation.’ But my mom also wanted me to get the best education and to have fun here like she did. And also to continue the legacy.”
After a moment, the 14-year-old added, “So I think it’s amazing,” looking at her great-grandmother.
“I’m proud of her coming to Sacred Heart,” said Veronica.