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Saint Mary's College students pass through the halls on their way to class at the school in Moraga, Calif. Tuesday, March 23, 2010. (Kristopher Skinner/Staff

It is not often that we devote editorial page space to talk about a birthday party, but it isn't often that one of our most distinguished neighbors turns 150.

Saint Mary's College in Moraga has been one of the Bay Areas gems for nearly a century and a half and as part of its year-long celebration -- or a Gaelabration, as they call it -- the college is hosting a combination birthday bash and block party on Saturday.

They call it an open house and festival, but the best part is that you are invited and you don't even need to take a gift because the college wants to tell its story to the entire community. It is quite a story.

While Saint Mary's has only been in Moraga since 1928, it first opened its doors in 1863 in San Francisco. Yes, that is 1863. To put that in perspective, Abraham Lincoln was president and the Civil War was raging.

The college moved to Oakland in 1889 and then in 1928 it moved again, this time to its bucolic location in Moraga.

Historians at the college say that much of its early funding came from gold extracted from the Gold Rush mines in the Sierra foothills and that it was among the earliest higher education institutions in California as well as the West.

Since 1868, the college has been guided by the Christian Brothers, the Catholic Church's oldest order dedicated exclusively to teaching.


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Saint Mary's has dubbed its sesquicentennial year as the Year of the Gael, planning a multitude of activities designed for both alumni and the community at large.

During its service in the Bay Area, Saint Mary's and it alums have received their fair share of honors in nearly every field imaginable.

But the school must be especially proud to be included in the 2013 edition of the prestigious guidebook "Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges."

Saint Mary's is the only Catholic college, and the only California college, to ever make the 40-school list. The list was originally crafted by former New York Times education editor, the late Loren Pope, to spotlight excellent schools that don't get the recognition they deserve.

The book is now edited by Denver-based education journalist Hilary Masell Oswald, the guidebook highlights the attributes of exemplary, but often unheralded colleges. The rating pays particular attention to schools that focus on liberal arts and sciences and it considers such elements as student-to-faculty ratios, the learning environment and undergraduate research opportunities. Obviously, Saint Mary's does well in all of those areas.

It is why Saint Mary's is actually thriving in these troubled times when so many schools are struggling. It's nearly 2,900 undergraduate enrollment is it's largest ever.

The party at the campus starts at 11 a.m. and lasts until 6 p.m. So, instead of fighting crowds in San Francisco this weekend, we recommend a visit to a Gaelabration. For directions, a listing of events and instructions for parking go to www.stmarys-ca.edu.