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School Marks 70th Anniversary

FOCUS: ORANGE COUNTY COMMUNITY NEWS | SADDLEBACK/SOUTH
BEACH: SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO

August 29, 1998|LINN GROVES

They stood for their eighth-grade graduation photo displaying ribbons of blue and gold, the school colors. Each had a talisman rose, the school flower, pinned on their lapels.

It was 1933, and Lillian Soto, Grace Sepulveda, Joseph Lopez and Fred Hunn made up the entire first graduating class of the Mission Parish School, founded in 1928 by Msgr. St. John O'Sullivan.

Seventy years later, 400 students in preschool through eighth grade attend the private school. A thousand more regularly attend religious classes.

Tonight the school will celebrate its 70th anniversary with a reunion, including Soto and Sepulveda, the two surviving original graduates.

"The evening is for special recognition of [Soto and Sepulveda] and to talk about memories," said Jerry Nieblas, a graduate and mission purchasing agent who is helping organize the reunion.

The school's history dates back to 1910, when Msgr. O'Sullivan arrived at the Mission San Juan Capistrano to recover from tuberculosis in the warm California weather. He would became a pioneer of mission programs, including the founding of the parish school.

Graduates recall strict but caring attention from nuns, who until eight years ago comprised the entire teaching staff.

Through the years, generations of families have passed through the school.

"I'm going to probably see friends I haven't seen in years," said Sepulveda's daughter, Aurora Belardes, who graduated from the school in 1962. Her grandson--Sepulveda's great-grandson--now attends the school.

In addition to sharing memories, alumni will get a preview of the school's future.

A display will outline plans to demolish a wing built in 1955, making way for a two-story classroom building with air conditioning and other modern amenities.

But some things will never change.

The Old Mission School building that houses the weathered school bell, once rung by priests to call children to class, will remain untouched.

The dinner, dance and raffle tonight were organized by a 12-member committee that included alumni Eloise Houston Dunn, Helen McMullen, "Happy" Hunn and Carmen Etcheberria Daque.

A reunion book of photographs and school history will be given to alumni and available to the public. For information: (949) 248-2031.

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