Network of Sacred Heart Schools
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History & Heritage

Our Sacred Heart Heritage

Sacred Heart Schools, Atherton (SHS) traces its heritage back to the year 1800, when St. Madeleine Sophie Barat founded the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (RSCJ) in France. Eighteen years later, her good friend and follower St. Rose Philippine Duchesne brought the Society to North America and established the first Sacred Heart schools in St. Louis and New Orleans—the first of many to follow across the U.S., and worldwide.

Today, Schools of the Sacred Heart can be found in 41 countries across six continents, with the U.S. - Canada Province comprising a total of 24 schools. Under the guidance of the RSCJ and in collaboration with lay administration, Sacred Heart schools remain uniquely tied to founder St. Madeleine Sophie, and reflect a common ethos and values-system based on the attitudes of the Heart of Jesus, as well as a universal mission to educate the whole child toward a meaningful life of leadership, faith, purpose, and compassion.

Sacred Heart students and alumni have access to a number of national and international opportunities for exchange study, service projects, and other activities that enable cross-cultural connections and support among the worldwide network of schools. As noted by the RSCJ, “once a child of the Sacred Heart, always a child of the Sacred Heart.”


History of Sacred Heart Schools, 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 118-year-old school today is an independent and integrated, co-educational, Catholic institution operating three interconnected programs--Preschool & Kindergarten (PSK), Lower & Middle Schools (LMS), and Sacred Heart Preparatory (SHP)—for students in preschool - grade 12. With a total enrollment of just under 1,200 and an alumni body that numbers close to 5,000 members, SHS continues to thrive as a top school in the San Francisco Bay Area, 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 seven primary instructional buildings, two libraries, two performing arts facilities, a sustainable farm and garden, an aquatics center, robotics and design lab, 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 more recently 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.

Since 1971, SHS 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.

St. Madeleine Sophie Barat

For the sake of one child, I would have founded the Society.
Where Scholarship and Values Matter
Founded by the Society of the Sacred Heart, SHS is a Catholic, independent, co-ed day school for students in preschool through grade 12