The story of the university’s origin involves an ambitious Irish bishop, the dismemberment of a parish called Sacred Heart and a dead Jesuit provincial. If it were fiction, it would be called noir.
The most intriguing L.A. stories often involve land deals, secret negotiations, and dreams that are realized in unexpected ways.
Those elements are part of the origin of Jesuit education in Los Angeles in 1911. Thomas Conaty, Irish-born bishop of the Diocese of Monterey-Los Angeles, took his post in 1903. Among his goals was the creation of a college on the model of Holy Cross, his alma mater.
When Conaty arrived, the Vincentian priests had established St. Vincent’s College as a premier institution in Southern California, with high school and college curricula. Nonetheless, Conaty soon began wooing the Jesuits of the Society of Jesus southward from Santa Clara, where they had established a university. They had been exploring the same idea themselves. Conaty cleared the way for them to assume a parish in Santa Barbara in 1908. But he also cautioned them that an opportunity to begin college education would have to wait.
In July 1910, the Vincentians abruptly decided to give up St. Vincent’s, citing financial setbacks as the primary reason. On the next day, Herman Goller, S.J., head of the California Jesuits, promised Conaty that the Society of Jesus would expand to Los Angeles. Four months later, Goller, 43, was dead.
Although the Jesuits intended to fulfill Goller’s pledge, their resources also had been strained. They told Conaty that the debt on the St. Vincent’s property was too large and that they couldn’t sustain the high school and college programs. They offered to maintain high school education and build toward a college, and they requested a location west of downtown. Conaty relented on the curriculum, but he directed the Jesuits to Highland Park, and he carved off a portion of nearby Sacred Heart parish to create St. Ignatius Church as a base.
Because the new Jesuit school seemed increasingly distinct from St. Vincent’s, the Society decided a new name was called for: Los Angeles College. Richard Gleeson, S.J., the school’s first president, explained the decision to Conaty, saying the new school was to be firmly rooted in the city of Los Angeles. And, he added, “I feel that the giving the name of the Holy Angels to the College will win their especial favor for myself and the great work before us.” In September 1911, the doors opened, and a handful of priests and 80 boys began what would become Loyola Marymount University.