Nestled against the Saddleback Mountains, Santa Margarita Catholic High School’s campus provides a beautiful environment for students to worship, learn, and thrive. The school began as a dream of the late Bishop William R. Johnson, who saw the need and potential for a Catholic high school in South Orange County. In 1985, Bishop Johnson’s enthusiasm caught the attention of religious and business leaders and soon plans were under way to fund and build an extraordinary school. With God’s blessing, dedicated community and church leaders, and the generosity of donors, Santa Margarita Catholic High School established its roots. The school opened its doors in the fall of 1987 and the charter class of 216 students graduated in June of 1991. Now home to approximately 1,700 students each year, Santa Margarita boasts dedicated faculty and staff, unmatched academic programs, faith-filled activities and competitive athletics.
Santa Margarita Catholic High School offers a college-preparatory education emphasizing the formation of the entire person. SMCHS strives to develop students who are people of faith, skilled lifelong learners, healthy individuals and involved citizens of our world. Students are challenged to grow spiritually, intellectually, socially and morally while bringing the nurturing charism of Caritas Christi – the love of Christ – to this community of faith and learning as well as the wider world. One of the most important ways students learn is through service. By serving others, our students become Christ’s hands, feet and heart. Recognizing the needs of others gives young people a sense of purpose and the power to make a difference.
Santa Margarita prides itself in offering a variety of academic programs allowing all types of learners the opportunity to succeed. In October of 1995, the school launched its Auxiliary Studies Program to provide additional support to students who learn differently. Santa Margarita is the only Catholic school in the state to offer such a comprehensive program. In 1997, SMCHS was accepted as a prestigious International Baccalaureate (IB) World School and is the only Catholic school in the county to offer the academically-rigorous IB track. Santa Margarita also offers Advanced Placement and honors courses. In 1998, the United States Department of Education awarded Santa Margarita its highest honor – the Blue Ribbon, an award given to only the nation’s finest schools. In addition, the school’s visual and performing arts program received recognition for “Distinction in the Arts” from the National Endowment for the Arts at the 1998 Blue Ribbon Ceremony in Washington D.C. For the fourth consecutive year, Santa Margarita Catholic High School once again made the Washington Post’s annual Challenge Index in 2015 earning a ranking of number 46 in the nation for private schools, the highest ranking Orange County Catholic school on the list. After years of preparation, SMCHS implemented a One-to-One Tablet PC Program beginning with the 2014-2015 school year. The program puts a tablet in the hands of every teacher and student providing an immersive, collaborative educational experience that inspires enthusiasm and ownership in the learning process. For the past two years, SMCHS was selected by Microsoft as a Showcase School for excellence in transforming the learning environment to deliver a more personalized education using mobile and cloud technology to better prepare students for success in college and the workplace.
Santa Margarita’s dance, song leading, and cheerleading squads regularly compete at the national level and have all won national championships. The choir has performed in prestigious music halls such as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall, St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City and St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Ireland while our theatre students have performed and competed at the International Thespian Festival coming home with accolades, taken the MACY award for Best Musical and studied and performed in theatre festivals abroad. The entire performing arts department has had the opportunity to perform at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts with the school’s visual arts students proudly displaying their work in the lobby. Alumni have gone on to study at some of the most prestigious art schools in the country many landing professional careers in both performing and visual arts.
Home of the Eagles, Santa Margarita’s athletic program includes 14 sports with 24 CIF-sanctioned teams. SMCHS also offers club sports including ice hockey, roller hockey, equestrian and surfing. The school has captured more championships than any other school in Orange County since Santa Margarita opened in 1987 and is the seven-time recipient of the CIF Commissioners Cup, recognizing the top athletic program in the CIF Southern Section. SMCHS has won the cup more than any other coed school in the CIF-SS. Distinguished alumni athletes include Matt Reis ’93, retired goalie with the MLS; Brian Finneran ‘94, who played for the Atlanta Falcons and was the recipient of the Walter Payton award as a senior at Villanova University; Kris Farris ‘95 who while playing for UCLA won the Outland Trophy awarded to the best United States college football interior lineman; Heisman trophy winner Carson Palmer ‘98, NFL quarterback for the Cincinnati Bengals, Oakland Raiders and Arizona Cardinals; Jared Hughes '03, MLB pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates; Erika Figge ’03, member of the 2008 US Olympic water polo team and World Championship Medalist; two-time Olympic gold medalist Amy Rodriguez ‘05 of the U.S. Soccer Team; Ryan Martin '07 who competed in the 2012 Olympic Trials and runs professionally for ASICS; Klay Thompson ‘08, first round draft pick for the Golden State Warriors and NBA record holder; Gavin Escobar '09, NFL player for the Dallas Cowboys; Beau Hossler ‘13, US Open competitor and golfer for the University of Texas; and Trayce Thompson ’09, an MLB outfielder with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Santa Margarita’s campus continues to mature with a focus on the future. In 2007, the much anticipated Aquatic Center opened boasting an Olympic-sized, 50-meter pool. The Sacred Heart Chapel was renovated in 2008 and serves as the spiritual center of campus. The campus expanded in 2010 with the addition of the Eagle Athletic Center – the first LEED-certified, green building in the city of Rancho Santa Margarita and the Diocese of Orange. The facility rivals athletic facilities at the nation’s top universities. The school’s commitment to the environment continued with the Academic Services Center which was completed in the spring of 2011, also a LEED-certified building. The center includes 10 new smart classrooms equipped with innovative technology including interactive white boards, a 3,700 square-foot Digital Media Studio – home to Eagle TV – and counseling, ASP and academic offices. During the summer of 2014, the Borchard Library Media Center was modernized creating a more technology-based, collaborative learning environment. Plans are under way to remodel the Borchard Science Building including the labs and modernize the performing arts classrooms. There’s still more to come: a performing arts center is planned.
With more than 9,500 alumni, Santa Margarita Catholic High School continues to produce exceptional graduates – spiritually, mentally, physically and emotionally – just as Bishop Johnson envisioned.