When John Pearl enrolled in second grade at St. James School in Falls Church last year, he was carrying on a family tradition.
That tradition began when John's grandfather, Eugene Shreve, started in Sister Madaline's first grade class. The year was 1906 and young Eugene was among the first students in the newly opened school at Broad and Spring streets.
This is a week traditions at St. James, as the school celebrates its diamond jubilee with festivities ranging from a reunion Friday night to a parish dinner Saturday.
The St. James that Eugene Shreve knew was a small brick building, started by the Rev. Edward Tierney, then pastor of St. James Catholic Church, with a donation from an early parish member, Mrs. Thomas Fortune Ryan.
With the funds provided by Mrs. Ryan, Father Tierney was able to build three classrooms, where four nuns -- the three teachers and a principal -- oversaw the work of 35 students in grades one through eight.
Today St. James has 28 classrooms, a teaching staff of 27 and, with 744 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, one of the largest parochial school enrollments in Virginia.
There have been some dramatic changes since the school first opened. For instance, as one student recalls, the school is a bit more comfortable.
"The girls had the luxury of indoor plumbing," laughed Eugene Shreve, who now lives in McLean, "While we boys had to use an outhouse some distance away."
Shreve recalls walking to school from his family's farm on Leesburg Pike (where the Peach Tree apartments now stand), although when the weather was bad his mother would take him in their buggy, picking up other children along the way.
"There were stables at the school then," said Eleanor Pauly Hines, of McLean, another early student at the school whose four sisters and a brother also attended St. James. "Some of the children came on horseback, or whole families brought a buggy for a day."
One thing all the students remember is the strict discipline that could result in a swift rap on the knuckles for students who got out of line. But there also are good memories of those days.
"On the last day of school every year, my father and another farmer -- Mr. Crimmins -- would bring two big farms wagons to the school and take all of us on a picnic and hayride out to Great Falls," recalled Shreve. "Those were wonderful parties."
In 1947, the original school was razed and replaced with a newer structure, which over the years has had additions built onto it. From 1906 to 1923, the school was staffed by nuns from the Perpetual Adoration Sisters. Since 1923, sisters from the order of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary have lived at St. James, and currently 11 of its members, including the principal, are among the 27 faculty members.
Visitors will find a continuity at St. James, too. The cirriculum, for instance, still focusus on the basics, with a healthy dose of old-fashioned discipline and an emphasis on religious education.
"The curriculum employs a continuous progress program," said Sister Helen Maureen, school principal, "where the children are grouped according to their ability in reading and math and move at their own speed. . ."
Most of the students still come from the local parish, although the school is beginning to draw some students from outside the area, and most of the pupils continue their high school educations at Bishop Denis J. O'Connell in Arlington.
And there is still an old-fashioned pride in the school and its students, as Sister Helen Maureen puts so simply: "We are very proud of them and of all our illustrious graduates."
The Diamond Anniversary of St. James School concludes Sunday, with a free continental breakfast for all parish families from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the school cafeteria.
Other activities include a mass at 10 a.m. today at St. James Church, celebrated by Bishop Thomas J. Welch of Arlington, and assisted by the Rev. Robert Brooks, pastor of St. James.
Alumni night will be celebrated from 8 to 11 Friday with a wine and cheese party at the school costing $3 per person.
Saturday mass at 6 p.m. will be followed by a celebration dinner at Msgr. Heller Auditorium on the school grounds. The cost is $15 per person and will include dinner and a historical booklet about the school.
For more information on any of the activities call St. James School 533-1182.