Standing rigidly at the end of the long corridor, the bugler snapped the mouthpiece up to his lips and blared mess call. Seconds later, 180 uniformed cadets dashed out the swinging doors of the building and lined up close by at a ramrod parade rest.
On the way, one of the cadets stopped quickly next to the person in charge and began to ask a question.
"Sir?" he said, then stopped and shook his head, embarrassed.
Sister Mary Menegatti curled her face in mock displeasure and laughed. It was obviously not the first time a cadet at St. Catherine's Military School had made that mistake. In an academic atmosphere where military rules and order exist side by side with the principles, teachings and religious faculty of a Catholic school, the two disciplines often intermingle.
"I see them as complementing each other," said Bernard Rumps, a seventh-grade teacher who has worked at St. Catherine's for 25 years. "A military-type discipline is something that I think is needed in everyone's life. It's basic to good citizenship. And I see the sisters as modifying that discipline to some extent. They tend to mitigate the harshness of the military discipline and make it palatable to young men."
The school--for grades three through eight--is located in a square block near downtown Anaheim dotted with tall palms and evergreens. It has existed in the same spot for nearly 100 years. Founded in 1889 by Dominican nuns on the site of a former vineyard, St. Catherine's began as a small parish school for St. Boniface Catholic Church, which still stands next to the school. It went through later incarnations as an orphanage, a coeducational school and a school for boys before becoming military in character in 1925.
Today it is, to the best of Sister Mary's knowledge, the only Catholic military elementary school in the western United States. And because of this, she said, there is a shared emphasis.
"It sounds like something right out of the book," she said, "but Christ really is the center of this school. There isn't really a military atmosphere as such. It's really one of self-discipline. That's what we teach: sound Christian values and self-discipline. Many things are built into the system that provide self-esteem. The boys are constantly being rewarded."
Good Behavior Recognized
It is that emphasis on positive reinforcement, said Maj. Larry Zaborowski, one of three members of the school military staff, that spurs the students.
"In the public schools," he said, "the teachers and administrators deal only with problems. Here, we recognize the boys who don't give us problems. We're able to relate military goals to a religious philosophy. We tell the boys that they're never going to be expected to defend the city of Anaheim, but we stress the areas of consistency and motivation and performance."
On the last day of school before Christmas vacation, the student cadets participated in an afternoon dress parade on the school's athletic field during which dozens of them in every grade were awarded medals, ribbons, shoulder cords, promotions in rank and other decorations indicative of their progress. Such awards are given frequently, and the shirts of many of the cadets literally sag under the weight of medals and awards, which jingle as they move.
But unlike a school that is strictly military in nature, there is the constant accompaniment of Masses, prayers and other religious observances in the cadets' daily lives.
Balance Is Sought
"I think it's more religious than military," said Matthew Rominger, 11, a student from Indianapolis. "We try to balance the two so that the students can learn to use both things."
"When you put the two together, you get a lot more out of the students," said Doug Chun, 13, a cadet from Hacienda Heights. "We put out more effort. On the military side, it's the physical and mental discipline, and on the religious side it's trying to be like Christ, trying to be the way we should be."
St. Catherine's offers boarding facilities, but day students make up about 50% of the student body, Sister Mary said. About half the students come from the Orange County area, but others come from as far away as the Philippines, Indonesia and Hong Kong. One class is composed of 35 cadets from Mexico who study English as a second language. A large percentage of the Mexican students--and several of the other students as well--have relatives who went to St. Catherine's.
"The school isn't for bad boys," Sister Mary said. "Our students are usually above average, and they usually have very concerned parents who want to stress a Christian value system. Some of them have gone to other private schools and even other military schools, and often they do better in our environment. They seem to shine more."
Motivated Toward Excellence
Most of the local cadets go on to Catholic high schools in the area, but a smaller percentage continue at military secondary schools in the West. Some have gone to Annapolis or West Point.