The Conrad Prebys Foundation Awards $25,000 to St. Madeleine Sophie’s Center

For Immediate Release

March 24, 2021

The Conrad Prebys Foundation Awards $25,000 to St. Madeleine Sophie’s Center

Contact: Sarah Vargas, Beck Ellman Heald,, 951-591-9727

San Diego, CA – St. Madeleine Sophie’s Center (SMSC), a nonprofit organization that serves individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, has been awarded a grant from The Conrad Prebys Foundation for $25,000. The grant is designated towards Sophie’s Gallery Virtual Art Program. SMSC was among 121 local arts, education, health, and science projects to receive a combined $78 million in grant funding from The Conrad Prebys Foundation’s inaugural grant cycle.

In the 1970s, SMSC expanded its curriculum to offer its first art classes. With these first classes, an untapped wealth of talent was revealed. Many students who had not been able to express themselves through traditional means were sharing their once hidden feelings through vibrant, original works of art on canvas, wood, glass, and other media.

Now, every week, SMSC students are taught a variety of media, such as print-making, jewelry-making, painting, charcoal, pastels, fabric arts, and more. All classes at Sophie’s Gallery are taught by professional artists – its art program was the first in the region to offer this enhanced benefit.

“Our staff and board are honored to serve as stewards for The Conrad Prebys Foundation, and with our role comes the responsibility to empower the nonprofits creating meaningful change across San Diego,” said Erin Decker, director of grantmaking.

St. Madeleine Sophie’s Center is a nonprofit organization that serves more than 400 adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities through nationally recognized, innovative programs. Its mission is to educate and empower individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities to realize their full potential. Intellectual and developmental disabilities include autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and other cognitive disorders for which there are no cures.


About St. Madeleine Sophie’s Center
St. Madeleine Sophie’s Center (SMSC), a nonprofit organization in El Cajon, CA, educates and empowers individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities to realize their full potential. Founded in 1966 by the Society of the Sacred Heart, the Center first focused on pre-school children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. When public schools began to assume that role in the early 1970s, SMSC shifted its focus to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Today, SMSC provides work training and social experiences that encourage students to become well-rounded, contributing members of the greater community. The Center also strives to educate the community about the realities of intellectual and developmental disabilities, such as Down syndrome, autism, and cerebral palsy. It employs over 120 staff members and is served by more than 150 dedicated volunteers. A fleet of some 45 paratransit vans and buses transports students between home, campus, and work sites, five days a week. For more information, visit

About The Conrad Prebys Foundation
The Conrad Prebys Foundation was established by real estate entrepreneur Conrad Prebys to perpetuate his commitment to philanthropic endeavors. The Conrad Prebys Foundation inspires transformational change by funding projects in alignment with Conrad Prebys’ legacy interests and continuing his efforts that spark meaningful advancement in our communities. For more information, visit

Foundress of St. Madeleine Sophie’s Center Celebrates 103rd Birthday

Sister Mary Mardel, who played a key role in the founding of St. Madeleine Sophie’s Center, will celebrate her 103rd birthday on March 3, 2021. Sr. Mardel currently resides at “Oakwood,” the retirement center of the Society of the Sacred Heart in Atherton, located in northern California.

In 1965, Sr. Mardel, superior of the Convent of the Sacred Heart, an elementary and secondary school for girls located on the property adjoining the Center, listened to a call.  That year, the Society of the Sacred Heart was celebrating the centenary of the death of its foundress, St. Madeleine Sophie. All the Society institutions throughout the world were asked to do something significant to honor her legacy.

At this same time, parents, whose children were enrolled in the school, insistently asked Sr. Mardel to help them with the education of their children with special needs, who were at home. Two of these mothers were Genevieve Thunder and Peggy Fraenzel.  There was no provision for their children in the public schools. Initially, Saturday classes were provided, but Sr. Mardel soon realized that a more extensive education was needed. She decided that a school for these children would be the best way to honor Madeleine Sophie, whose entire life was dedicated to education. Six acres of land east of the school were purchased, and Mrs. Elizabeth Parkman, a generous friend, donated $25,000 for a building.  The first class of 8 (eight) children began in 1966.

Recognizing that the needs of preschool-age children with developmental disabilities were going to be met by the public school system, SMSC determined in 1972 to change its focus and transitioned its services to meet the needs of adults with developmental disabilities. In 1975, a federal law mandated that the public school system educate children with special needs in the public schools. Over these 55 years, the Center has grown to be the unique place we know today, providing a wonderful variety of programs to over 400 adults. One of the original students, Anne Thunder, still attends the Center.

To honor Madeleine Sophie, Sr. Mary Mardel, a woman with a vision to educate those with special needs, responded to a call. Now, at 103 years, she has the deep joy of knowing one of her greatest desires came to fruition at St. Madeleine Sophie’s Center in ways she never had dreamed.