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Our History

We are grounded in our past with an awareness of the present and a passion for the future.

History of SD

The Dominican Sisters of San Rafael

Since Mother Mary Goemaere founded our School in 1850, the Dominican Sisters have been an integral part of our program. Many alumni recall their relationships with Sisters as some of the highlights of their Dominican education. Special annual occasions such as Reunion Weekend and Tableaux are always highly anticipated events that reconnect alumni with the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael.

While San Domenico parted from its religious affiliation in 2017, the Dominican Sisters continue to play an inspirational role in our students’ education. The Dominican traditions of inquiry and reflection are infused into our educational philosophy, and the Sisters still maintain a vibrant and important connection with our program. For example, the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael and SD students regularly serve individuals who are homeless at Homeward Bound. San Domenico Kindergarten students are paired with retired Dominican Sisters for a buddy system of love and multi-generational learning; the students’ visits to the Sisters’ retirement home, Lourdes, are often highlights of the year for students, parents, and Sisters. The Sisters and the School work together in support of the Earth Charter and myriad other social, health, and environmental justice issues. Members of the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael also sit on the San Domenico School Board of Trustees and work with school leadership and teachers in support of the School’s religious studies program. Sr. M. Gervaise Valpey, O.P. is President Emerita.

Learn more about the trailblazing Dominican Sisters of San Rafael at

A Historical Timeline

Historical photo of San Domenico

1850: Californians were celebrating admission to the Union, and the school’s foundress, Mother Mary Goemaere, came from Paris to Monterey to open the first independent and first Catholic school in California, and to establish a tradition inseparably joined with this state’s history.

1854: the school moved to Benicia, then the capital of the state. During the ensuing thirty years, it became the center of culture and education for California’s young women. When Benicia’s importance as a population center began to decline, after the state capital moved to Sacramento, the sisters determined to move the school to a more central location in the Bay Area.

Historical photo of San Domenico

1889: the novitiate and boarding school were transferred to San Rafael. Despite extreme poverty during the first few years, the sisters kept up the high standards and traditions and enhanced the school's already distinguished reputation.

1965: the school moved to its present location in Sleepy Hollow, San Anselmo.

1973: San Domenico School begins a Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten program.

1985: the Alice Dupas Brown Library, serving all grade levels, is completed.

1994: our Sustainability project is inaugurated and became an important part of campus life.

2001: the School built the state-of-the-art Sister M. Maurice Powers Science and Technology Center.

2003: the Tamara A. Valley Athletic Center, featuring a 10,000 square foot gymnasium and workout room, and the Hall of the Arts, featuring a fine art gallery space, seven practice studios, and the Bettye Poetz Ferguson Hall, opened.

Historical photo of San Domenico

2004: the Carol Franc Buck Hall of the Arts was completed, including a fine art gallery space and housing our Music Conservatory and Virtuoso Program.

2005: our sustainable Garden of Hope expanded to include an outdoor kitchen and facilities for the care of poultry.

2009: 2,358 solar panels were installed on-site in partnership with Recurrent Energy—the largest solar installation in a Marin school.

2011: San Domenico introduced a 1-to-1 iPad program in grades 6-12—the first in Marin County to do so. SD is recognized as an Apple Distinguished School in 2012.

2014: the administration and board of directors, with the approval of the Dominican sisters, commit to extending coeducation through to the high school.

2015: the first ever coed Upper School freshmen class launches with 33 boys and 44 girls. 10th, 11th, and 12th grade students welcome the trailblazers with open arms, the results exceed everyone's expectations, and lead many to ask, "Why didn't we do this sooner?"

2015 also marks the beginning of our anniversary year: San Domenico's 50th year at the San Anselmo campus, and 165 years of Dominican Spirit as California's first independent school.

2016: inaugural Freshmen Boys Basketball team finishes the season 9 - 2.

2017: the Dominican Sisters and the San Domenico Board of Trustees determine that the School will no longer be a Catholic school and will not be recognized by the Archdiocese of San Francisco as such. The School has honored, and will continue to honor, its Catholic and Dominican heritage.

2017-18: inaugural Varsity Men’s Baseball and Basketball teams both win BCL Championships.

2019: the first fully coed class will graduate from the Upper School, marking the first time in history that the School is fully enrolled, coed, K-12.

2020: The COVID-19 virus breaks out in March and quickly goes round the world. Despite a national lockdown, San Domenico boarding stays open the entire time and the K-12 day day and boarding program is fully reopened by October of 2020, with no on-campus transmission.

2022: Panther Athletics comes back from a COVID-19 hiatus with a roar. The Women’s Basketball team wins the Division 5 CIF State Championship!