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