Our History in Atherton
At the close of the 19th century, the RSCJ established its 13th Sacred Heart school in the U.S. and second on the West Coast—the Academy of the Sacred Heart—a boarding school for girls located on the San Francisco Peninsula. Utilizing 40 acres of land purchased in 1894 from the Faxon Dean Atherton family, campus construction began with the iconic Main Building, housing both classroom and living space for student residents and RSCJ alike. Under the direction of founder and headmistress Rev. Mother Jane Fox, the school opened its doors in 1898 and began to flourish, adding a separate co-educational elementary school in 1906 (St. Joseph's), a college division for women in 1921 (sold to USF in 1978), and a preschool in the 1970s.
Still carrying out the original mission of St. Madeleine Sophie and the RSCJ—to educate children toward meaningful lives of faith, leadership, service, and compassion—today the 123-year-old school is an independent and integrated, co-educational, Catholic institution operating three interconnected programs on one campus—Montessori Preschool, Lower & Middle Schools (K-8), and Sacred Heart Preparatory (9-12). With a total enrollment of 1,180 and an alumni body that numbers close to 5,000 members, SHS continues to thrive as a top San Francisco Bay Area private school, with a highly competitive academic curriculum, growing endowment, robust fine arts program, and number of championship athletic teams.
Over time, the SHS campus has grown to 63 acres, comprising approximately eight primary instructional buildings, two libraries
, two performing arts facilities
, a sustainable farm and garden
, a makerspace, a robotics
and creative design lab
, an aquatics center, three gymnasiums, and several athletic fields
, among other resources. The historic Main Building, which still serves as a principal administrative and classroom space, remains the school's architectural centerpiece, with its graceful mansard roof and bell tower, welcoming main floor parlors, intimate and serene chapel, and imposing porte-cochère. Religious spaces, grottos, and artifacts, as well as commissioned, contemporary public artworks, are featured throughout the lush grounds, an aesthetic and harmonious mix of old and new. The campus' Stevens Library, built in 2012, is the first library in the country and first school building in California to be recognized as a "Net Zero Energy Building," operating entirely independent from fossil fuels and reducing the campus' overall resource usage. The flagship William V. Campbell Academic and Arts Center
, a green building opened in fall 2019, significantly expanded indoor-outdoor flexible learning space for the high school, and in 2021 earned two honors: the inaugural Peninsula Clean Energy All-Electric Leadership Award, and the Green Building Award from Sustainable San Mateo County and the American Institute of Architects.
Since 1971, the SHS campus has also been home to Oakwood
, the only retirement facility for RSCJ in the western United States. With access to so many accomplished and dedicated members of the schools' founding Order, students at all levels of SHS frequently visit, serve, and interact with the Oakwood residents throughout the year, ensuring the traditions, spirit, and legacy of St. Madeleine Sophie remain ever-present and integral to the SHS experience.