Hot temperatures didn’t stop students at Pomona Catholic High School and Middle School from heralding the beginning of the school year with their traditional half-mile walk to St. Joseph Church for an all-school Eucharistic celebration. Plenty of water was on-hand and the procession moved at a good pace down Holt Boulevard for the students who were joined by alumnae, parents, faculty and staff for this recently re-introduced tradition from the 1950s.This marks the 115th anniversary year for Pomona Catholic which has served families in the Inland Empire since 1898 when it was created at the invitation of St. Joseph Church. 

The original campus was destroyed in a 1927 fire; it was immediately rebuilt in 1928 and still stands today. Through the years, the school has been a private school, a parish school and now an archdiocesan school, noted Msgr. Sabato Pilato, superintendent of high schools for the archdiocese, who presided at Mass. Concelebrating were St. Joseph pastor Father Roberto Jarnilla and associate pastor Father Anh-tuan Nguyen. 

In addition to kicking off the commemorative school year, the celebration also welcomed one of the newest teachers to the staff, Felician Sister Desiré Anne-Marie Findlay who renewed her first year vows in the presence of the school body. In a calm, strong voice, the New Mexico native pledged to “choose Jesus for my spouse and Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary for my mother and lady, the seraphic St. Francis for my model of evangelical life and this congregation for my family.” 

After Mass, Sister Findlay described her new home at Pomona Catholic as “very welcoming; it fits just like a glove.” She said she is excited to see the girls “live their faith through Spanish, religion and dance,” the subjects she will teach. “I am really looking forward to being here with them.”“We are very blessed to have Sister Findlay here with us,” agreed Kathleen Li, campus minister. 

The Felician Sisters have taught at Pomona Catholic since 1946; the Holy Name of Mary Sisters also were a part of the staff for an earlier period. The presence of Sister Findlay — who joins Felician Sister Feliz Gil-Jimenez, who has taught at the school since 1977 — allows the high school girls to better understand the call to religious vocations, said Li. “They have a lot of questions for her like, ‘How did you know you were called?’” said Li. “Her presence and her youth makes the idea of a vocation more real to the students here. They can see her living her vocation.”

Before venturing outside in the early September heat, senior Brooke Johnson was pondering her last year as a student at the school, and the annual walk to St. Joseph. “It’s been my home,” she said. “Our school is such a part of this community and a lot of people [who aren’t affiliated with the school] show up here to support us.” Indeed, car honks and waves from passers-by greeted the students as they ambled to and from the school. Police officers also helped protect the students on their journey which, said Johnson, is a reminder to the city that “Pomona Catholic is still part of Pomona and we are here to stay.” 

When the students returned to school, no classes or homework awaited them — only a school-wide barbecue. Jimena Medina, who helped serve, has been a Pomona Catholic parent for six years, with one daughter graduated last year and the other now a freshman. “We are a united community,” she noted. “And we aren’t just a class, but a family.” 

The current combined enrollment of middle and high schoolers at Pomona Catholic is about 300, serving a working-class population and a variety of ethnic backgrounds. “Over the last four years, we have seen a nine percent growth,” said principal Samuel Torres. He is pleased that the walk has become part of the school fabric; the school’s chapel only seats 70 which means the auditorium is often used for Eucharistic celebrations. “Being in a church as a school makes a difference,” he said. 

Torres is establishing other traditions this year at the school, including a rose pin ceremony for freshmen students and a ring ceremony for juniors where, in addition to their school rings, they will receive faith-centered symbolic rings decorated with four roses.“These rites of passage work with our faith and strengthen who we are,” says Torres. “Our girls do not have to go elsewhere to find affirmation and hope. We want them to know that ‘You are good, you are wonderful and God loves you.’”{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/0913/sgpomona/{/gallery}

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