Seattle’s Jesuit College Prep School Since 1891

About Prep


The history of Seattle Preparatory School began on September 27, 1891 at St. Francis Hall on the corner of Sixth Avenue and Spring Street. In this first year, the student body consisted of both girls and boys because this new school was a successor to a co-ed diocesan school (Immaculate Conception). Fr. Victor Garrand, SJ (co-founder along with Fr. Adrian Sweere, SJ), expressed great hope for the school’s success:

“Our mission in Seattle resembles those in New Orleans, New York and San Francisco. We are in the middle of a mixed population with an assortment of adventurers from all over the world. Not even the Romans had a more noble origin.”

Each school day began with Mass, and students were expected to master a traditional Jesuit curriculum patterned after the Ratio Studiorum, a rigid progression of studies established by the Society of Jesus in 1599 that included Latin, Greek, math, literature, science and religion. By 1894, the school no longer included females; Prep would not become co-educational again until the 1970s.

Also in 1894, the school moved to a new building on land that the Province had purchased from Arthur Denny. While Denny, a Seattle founder, had donated land for the creation of the University of Washington, for the Jesuits the purchase price was $18,382 – cash. The new building was designed by Fr. Garrand himself and remains to this day on the Seattle University campus near Broadway and Madison.

In 1898, the school was renamed “Seattle College,” although, despite the name, it remained a college preparatory school and awarded only high school diplomas. (The first college diplomas were not awarded until 1909.) Tuition was kept very low (only $15 in 1899) in order to provide greater access to Jesuit education, although costs far exceeded the charge.

The conclusion of World War I saw both the need and desire to substantially upgrade facilities. However, given the school’s meager resources, the Jesuit leadership at the time could not discern a path forward.

Enter T.C. and Ella McHugh. In 1918, the McHugh’s sold their interest in the Deep Sea Cannery Company and used much of the proceeds to purchase Adelphia College, a Swedish Baptist seminary and school located on North Capitol Hill. The McHugh’s – second founders of Seattle Prep – donated the property to Seattle College. In fall of 1919, 143 students began classes at the new “Interlaken Campus.” Prep has remained on this campus to this day and Adelphia Hall served as the school’s primary academic building until its demolition in 2014.

In 1929, Seattle College (later Seattle University), officially separated from Seattle College High School and returned to the Broadway and Madison campus. In 1933, the high school was renamed Seattle Preparatory School.

The opening of the school year in 1937 saw the beginning of the “Christy” McDonnell era at Seattle Prep. Fr. McDonnell, SJ served as principal, president and rector until 1956 and, with his commanding presence and charisma, is deservedly recognized as one of the great leaders in Prep’s long history. His picture now hangs in McDonnell Hall, near the portrait of another extraordinary Prep leader, Fr. Thomas Healy, SJ.

The early 1970s saw Prep in another of its periodic crises. While under threat of possible closure by the Province, Fr. Healy changed both the structure and educational vision of the school, a metamorphosis that remains core to Prep’s identity to this day. In 1975, Seattle Prep, having determined that Jesuit education should not be restricted to half the population, celebrated its first female graduates. At the same time, Matteo Ricci College (MRC) was born out of a fruitful collaboration between Seattle Prep and Seattle University.

Educational Philosophy

The structural change in the 1970s – three years of studies at Prep (MRC Form 1) followed by three years of studies at Seattle University (MRC Form 2) - was altered in the early 1980’s so that students could stay at Prep for senior year instead of being required to “commence” to Seattle University after Junior year. (This adjustment was made because, almost immediately after the creation of Matteo Ricci program, Prep’s freshman enrollment dropped dramatically.) The MRC option remained available for Prep students for 40 years after its creation.

Although MRC has not continued, what remains in place at Prep to this day is the educational philosophy that was established by Fr. Healy and other school leaders in the 1970s. While retaining the academic rigor of the Ratio Studiorum, Prep shifted to an integrated approach to studies designed to develop students’ abilities to analyze, synthesize, reflect, and problem solve. Prep’s emphasis on integration and collaboration challenges students to grapple with ideas, not fact memorization, and emphasizes building connections between concepts instead of merely assimilating information.

Prep’s Collegio model is illustrative of this unique approach. Collegio synthesizes the core humanities – English, history and theology – into one class taught by two instructors. What would this mean, for example, in a Sophomore Collegio? In one unit, students analyze The Tale of Two Cities while exploring broader historical and religious movements in 18th-century Europe. The learning experience transitions from fact mastery to connecting ideas, from the specific to the general: What are the root causes of all revolutions? And back from general to specific: How do the root causes of all revolutions apply to uprisings in our world today? What religious movements contributed to these revolutions? This integration happens within a spirit of collaboration as students and teachers work together toward the common goal of deeper understanding.

To borrow a phrase from the early Jesuits, our “way of proceeding” is not like other ways. We eschew, for example, curricula focused on rote memorization and standardized tests. Rather, our way challenges students to extend their reach beyond information toward formation and, at special moments, transformation, thus creating a learning environment that is fully responsive to the expectations of an active, responsible global citizen in the 21st century.

Today, both the opportunities and challenges are clear. Seattle Prep’s 760 students and more than 10,000 graduates - educated in the 475-year Jesuit tradition and formed within Prep’s unique educational vision - strive to transform our city, state, nation and world. And they leave Prep fully equipped to do so.

Points of Interest – Early History

1902: Blue and White adopted as the school colors (in honor of the Virgin Mary).

1914: Tuition is $5 per month.

1923: The Panthers of Prep played their first football game against the Fighting Irish of O'Dea, a 7-0 Prep victory at Broadway Playfield. The name of Prep's yearbook changes from Palestra" to "Echo."

1924: The Mother's Club, precursor to Prep's Parent Board, was formed. First task: To help raise funds for the construction of Garrigan Gym ("a dollar a brick"). During the Great Depression, the Mothers Club canned food for the Jesuits.

1925: Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth visited Prep. The Babe addressed Prep students and then hit fly balls from the Adelphia Hall entrance to 10th Avenue.

1929: Dedicated to the popular St. Joseph parish priest, William A Garrigan, SJ Gymnasium opened just five days before the Wall Street stock market crash and was long considered the best high school gym in the city. In addition to serving as the home of the Panthers, Garrigan Gym was also home to the Seattle College Maroons, Seattle Pacific College Falcons and huge "sock hops."

1930: Eamon De Valera, President of Ireland, addressed an assembly in Garrigan Gym. Edward J. Coen, beloved teacher at Seattle College High and Seattle Prep from 1907 – 1947, had persuaded the president, an old friend from rebellion days, to come to Seattle.

Interlaken Campus Building Projects

1905: Adelphia Hall

1929: William A Garrigan, SJ Gymnasium

1950s: Fr. Christopher McDonnell, SJ Hall

1960s: Peyton Hall (former Jesuit residence)

1980s: McHugh Gymnasium

1990s: Ignatius Hall, Parking Garage, and Plaza

2000s: Lee Family Arts Center, PACCAR Commons, and The Fr. Thomas Healy, SJ Theater and Chapel

2010s: Ohno Field at Montlake, Muglia Science Lab, Fr. Paul Fitterer, SJ Community Ministry Center, Adelphia Memorial Hall, Peyton Plaza, Our Lady of Montserrat Chapel, Rudolf Athletic Field, 1891 Terrace, Regina Melonson Learning Resource Center, and the Lico Athletic Center.