On December 26, Saint Joseph High School alumnus and beloved Bishop O’Dowd President Stephen Phelps ’62 passed away at the age of 73 after suffering complications from a heart procedure. He is survived by his wife, Sue, children, Amy and Chris, and grandson, Boston.
Born June 9, 1944 in Los Angeles, Steve grew up in Oakland and graduated from Saint Joseph High School in 1962. At St. Joe’s, Steve was remembered for his smarts and good grades, weekly readings at Friday mass, and involvement in Sodality and Intramurals. His brothers Mike ’63 and Paul ’70 also attended St. Joe’s.
After high school, Steve went on to study at San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco and devoted his career to serving others. From 1972 to 2004, Steve was a teacher, coach, and director of professional development at St. Ignatius College Prep in San Francisco. There, he touched many lives and was the recipient of numerous awards, both local and national for excellence and innovation in Catholic education and for service to youth.
Julie Guevara, Assistant Principal of Student Life at SJND, remembers Steve as a life-long learner, teacher and coach who dedicated his life passing along knowledge, wisdom and love.
“He often left books in my mailbox about anything he thought I might learn from whether it was about basketball or current trends in education or history. Steve encouraged me to strive for excellence, to continuously grow as an individual and to share my gifts with those who may need them,” explained Ms. Geuvara.
Don Lippi, teacher and head coach of the Men’s Basketball team at SJND, first met Steve 45 years ago at a local basketball tournament before going on to work with Steve at St. Ignatius. He reflected on Steve’s desire to start SI’s professional development program in 1996, calling him a pioneer in that sense. “Steve wanted to make people get better. He looked for good people and looked out for them.”
One day during the 90s, Steve came in and convinced Mr. Lippi he couldn’t be without a computer any longer, taking him to the store to buy one. “If it wasn’t for Steve, I’d still be without a computer,” Mr. Lippi joked.
“He was really good at connecting with people,” Mr. Lippi explained. “He took care of people.”
Following his tenure at St. Ignatius, Steve became President of Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland, where he served for 12 years prior to his passing. His dedication to the school and its community – through his fundraising work and academic program support – leaves a lasting impact.
“[Steve] built O’Dowd into a pillar of the East Bay educational landscape and became an icon in the process. He leaves an incomparable legacy,” said O’Dowd Board of Regents Chairperson and SJND alumnus Kevin Kelly ‘79.
Steve’s enthusiasm and leadership was also felt at the diocesan level for his planning and the support he gave to local elementary schools.
“I am deeply thankful for Mr. Phelps and his daring audacity to dream bigger than most of us and inspire our vision for Catholic schools to be that much greater,” said SJND Principal Ken Jennings. “He was truly a pioneer in the field of Catholic education.”