When Cybil Hilario Ignacio thinks about St. Patrick-St. Vincent (SPSV) Catholic High School, thoughts of family and community merge, as well as the joyful weaving together of a few generations. She and her husband, Alfred, and their two children, her two sisters and their children, and more members of her family have all been part of the SPSV community in Vallejo.
“We consider SPSV to be our extended family,” says Cybil, an alumna of the class of 1995. “What makes it unique is many of our classmates from elementary and high school are still our close friends, some were in our wedding and some are godparents for our children. The way the community is established in high school brings so many people together. We have the same values and type of upbringing. It’s a close-knit community where your classmates become lifelong friends.”
Cybil started her journey in Catholic education at St. Vincent Ferrer School (SVFS) in Vallejo, where she met her husband, Alfred, in the first grade. Alfred is also a 1995 alum of SPSV and they were married in St. Vincent Ferrer Church. They have two children: Ysabel, a 2017 alumna of SPSV and SVFS, and Alfred Jr., a current senior at SPSV and an alum of SVFS. They live in Concord and attend Mass at St. Bonaventure Parish.
“My sisters, Athena (class of 1988) and Zenia (class of 1993), and I were fortunate that my parents wanted to provide a Catholic education for all of us from first to 12th grade,” says Cybil, who works as an executive assistant at a private equity firm in San Francisco.
“We chose to follow in their footsteps and we understood the amount of parent participation and service that is required at Catholic schools,” she adds. “When Alfred and I became parents, we immediately knew we were going to provide our children the same educational experience we had. We wanted to have the Catholic faith instilled in them. We wanted to carry on the family tradition and it’s a fulfilling journey to have them attend and graduate from both schools. To be a parent at the same schools you attended as a child is a special experience.”
Alfred Sr., a firefighter for the San Jose Fire Department for the past 19 years, values that SPSV is located in one of the most ethnically-diverse cities in the United States. “It gives us and our children a chance to celebrate diversity and how we relate to others, a better understanding of those in our community, and makes us more compassionate to the other citizens around us. It’s why we wanted our children here. For us, there was no other choice.”
Ysabel, who is distance learning from CSU-Long Beach, praises student life at SPSV, with special-interest clubs such as student government, campus ministry, retreat programs, performing arts, choir and instrumental music. She was involved in choir, campus ministry, student council and sports. SPSV “allows students in different grades to develop close friendships and we value good relationships with staff and faculty,” she says. “The education prepared me very well for college because of the caring and motivating teachers I had. Praying during the day, going to Mass at school and at my parish influenced my life greatly.
“Anyone of any race could join any of the ethnic-based clubs,” she adds. “They could raise awareness of any issues in those communities and appreciate different cultures. SPSV values all students and wants them to feel comfortable and accepted. Because of this, it allows you to find out what you like doing and prepares you for college, your career and your life.”
Alfred Jr. says the best part of SPSV is “I have tried new things, such as link crew (helping freshman students) and anime club. I have also increased my faith. I’m a religious person and praying before class and before lunch, and having Mass together is the best part.”
Alfred Sr. compares the motto of his fire department – “Family, Integrity and Trust” – to the experience at SPSV. “The reason I’m with my fire department is that it embodies a lot of what SPSV instilled in me. The friends and family I’m still in contact with since first grade at St. Vincent and grade 9 at SPSV all have integrity. The education at SPSV showed us the difference between right and wrong and how to handle ourselves as members of society. I wish every student in America could go to SPSV.”
Coleen Martin, principal of SPSV for the past six years, says the community “is something unlike anywhere else I’ve ever worked.”
“I’m proud to be part of the leadership team that is guiding our students every day,” she notes. “Being able to bring your faith into every aspect of your work is truly a gift I’m thankful for. To work with students, families and faculty, and continue to spread the word of God and live out who we are as Catholics is just unlike anything else. I’m honored and proud to be a part of it.”
An alumna of Catholic schools in Philadelphia, Coleen earned her bachelor’s degree in education at Temple University and a master’s degree from Chapman University in California after she and her husband moved to the Bay Area. Prior to SPSV, she was a teacher and administrator at the middle and high school level in public schools. Her daughter, Maisie, is a senior at SPSV.
“Our Catholic faith brings us the joy,” Coleen says. “Our incredibly rich history in Solano County is not publicized enough, so during our 150th anniversary and beyond I’m excited for the larger Catholic community to be able to hear about us. We have a faculty and staff that works collegiately together, yet they are comfortable in challenging one another. It’s always for the benefit of students. I don’t know that I’ve ever worked with a group of educators who can do that with each other.”
She notes that 14 faculty and staff are SPSV alumni. “Some of them started out volunteering, but to come back and live out their careers here is a huge positive to our school,” she says. “In addition, we have a large number of dedicated alumni who have the heart to serve and a will to give back.”
SPSV reopened for in-person instruction on Oct. 7, while continuing distance learning for families who requested it. About one-third of students returned to campus and two-thirds continued their instruction through distance learning.
An enrollment of 360 students can make it challenging for fundraising, Coleen notes. In recent years, developments such as the bankruptcy of the city of Vallejo and the closing of Mare Island Naval Shipyard have spurred SPSV to regroup and re-envision. “We have six feeder Catholic elementary schools that reach all the way to Vacaville,” she says. “We provide a faith-filled education that many families are looking for. Parents want their teens to be faith-centered and safe, and they know SPSV is safe socially and emotionally for their teens to become who they are.”
She’s proud of “how multiethnic and multicultural we are, that we have a strong faculty faith formation program, and our campus ministry group includes students of all faiths.”
Erin Jacobs, director of development and communications at SPSV for the past three years, has focused on many outreach efforts, including wider use of social media, to connect with prospective families and especially with alumni under age 45. That generation may now have prospective students for SPSV or are in a stronger position financially to give back to the school.
“I’m trying to reignite their love, fondness and affiliation with SPSV,” says Erin, a member of St. Dominic Parish in Benicia. She sends out an electronic newsletter quarterly and utilizes “spotlight” videos with interviews of alumni about their professions and lives today.
“What strikes me is how much detail they remember about their time at SPSV, and specifically about teachers who influenced and mentored them,” Erin says. “There’s a level of fondness and support these alumni describe that’s a real tribute to what I see happening on campus. There’s amazing efforts to engage each student on a personal level and to help them live their best lives, setting them on the right track for the future. Those stories are a real testament to our school community.”
Header photo: Members of the Hilario and Ignacio families are all graduates of St. Patrick-St. Vincent High School in Vallejo. Left to right: Alfred Ignacio Jr. (class of 2021), Athena Hilario Pilisoc, Zenia Hilario Laxa, Cybil Hilario Ignacio, Ysabel Ignacio and Alfred Ignacio Sr.