Sister Mary Mardel, Foundress of St. Madeleine Sophie’s Center, Celebrates 104th Birthday

San Diego, CA – St. Madeleine Sophie’s Center (SMSC), a nonprofit organization headquartered in El Cajon that serves over 400 individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, is proud to celebrate the 104th birthday of its Foundress, Sister Mary Mardel, who played a key role in the founding of SMSC. Sr. Mardel celebrates her 104th birthday on March 2nd, 2022. She 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, the parents of the children enrolled in the school insistently asked Sr. Mardel to help them with the education of their children with special needs, seeing as there were no provisions for their children in the public schools. Initially, Saturday classes were provided, but Sr. Mardel soon realized that a more extensive education was needed.


Sr. Mardel decided that a school for these children would be the best way to honor St. Madeleine Sophie, whose entire life was dedicated to education. Six acres of land east of the school was purchased, and Mrs. Elizabeth Parkman, a generous friend, donated $25,000 for a building to be constructed. The first class of eight children began in 1966. Recognizing that the needs of preschool-age children with intellectual and 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 intellectual and developmental disabilities. In 1975, a federal law mandated that the public school system educate children with special needs.


Over these 55 years, St. Madeleine Sophie’s Center has grown to be a unique place and a safe haven for its students, providing a wonderful variety of programs to more than 400 adults. One of the original students, Anne Thunder, still attends the Center.


Sr. Mary Mardel had a vision to educate those with special needs, and now, at 104 years of age, she has the deep joy of knowing one of her greatest desires came to fruition in ways that she never imagined. In lieu of birthday gifts, St. Madeleine Sophie’s Center is asking those who wish to support the continued success of the organization to donate $104 in honor of Sr. Mardel via online donations at



About St. Madeleine Sophie’s Center:

St. Madeleine Sophie’s Center (SMSC) is 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 developmental disabilities. When public schools began to assume that role in the early 1970s, SMSC shifted its focus to adults with 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 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

Leave a Reply


Our Community Depends on You!

Our patrons are a critical component of the SMSC community. Without our generous supporters, we wouldn’t be able to provide all the wonderful programs and resources available to our students. Please consider donating so that we can continue to best serve our community.

Background Image

Other Programs
& Specializations

Activity Center

Activity Center programs focus on the development and maintenance of the functional skills required for self-advocacy, community integration and employment.

Adult Development Center

The goal of the Adult Development Center program is to offer a variety of opportunities, which aim at increasing the level of independence, as well as improve the overall “quality of life” for those we serve.

Behavior Modification

The purpose of this program — which is offered on a consumer-to-staff ratio of 1:3 — is to increase consumers’ level of independence, and decrease their level of behaviors, while they are involved in work and other meaningful activities.

Senior Program

This program is open to those aged 50 and over. Our primary focus is the promotion of an environment that is conducive to the discovery of recreational alternatives, the improvement of an individual’s leisure skills, and enhancement of the retirement experience for our senior population.

Supported Employment

Supported Employment services are aimed at finding competitive work in a community integrated work setting for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities who need ongoing support services to learn and perform the work.

Adaptive Computer Training

This innovative program trains adults with developmental disabilities to learn basic computer skills using adaptive technology equipment that meets each student’s individual need.

Aquatics Program

St. Madeleine Sophie’s Center Aquatics Program offers quality classes, year-round, to the general public and to our SMSC students. Swimming is an enjoyable social and/or recreational experience that also provides a broad spectrum of health benefits.

Culinary Arts Training

These courses qualify students to prepare and serve daily meals. SMSC’s goal is to teach skills that will help students find employment opportunities in the food service industry.


Developing communication skills is important. At SMSC a licensed speech/language pathologist assesses individual speech and language abilities and provides instruction and activities in small group settings.

Employment Services

SMSC’s Employment Services Program is a community-based program that serves adults with developmental disabilities who are in the process of acquiring vocational skills, and generally need support and direction in obtaining and retaining employment.

Organic Garden

Our two-acre organic garden site includes a flourishing natural habitat; complete with ADA approved meandering pathways, contemplative spaces and opportunities to commune with nature. In addition, our gardens serve as a reality-based work training environment.

Sophie's Gallery

In the 1970s, SMSC expanded its curriculum to offer its first art classes. 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.