Photos Provided by Cathedral High School
Cathedral High School is celebrating its centennial anniversary this year, marking a century of education encompassing spiritual, emotional and physical growth with a diverse population of students. As the oldest Catholic high school in Central Indiana, Cathedral has a rich and colorful history that had its share of challenges from the start, but along the way, they have persevered and are poised for continued success.
Before there was a Cathedral High School, the only Cathedral that existed was the Cathedral Grade School, located at 14th and Pennsylvania. Bishop Joseph Chartrand decided he wanted to open an all-Catholic boy’s high school in central Indianapolis. Bishop Chartrand called upon the Brothers of Holy Cross, who were a teaching order at the time, and shared his vision for a new all-boys Catholic High School.
Cathedral High School was owned by the Indianapolis Diocese but the Holy Cross Brothers of Notre Dame were brought in to serve as faculty. The Brothers were also faculty to many schools and colleges around the country, including Notre Dame.
On the morning of Friday, September 13, 1918, 19 freshmen and sophomore students were greeted by Bishop Chartrand and four Brothers of Holy Cross. Eleven seniors were the first to graduate in 1921. Cathedral’s connection to Notre Dame was well documented in those early years and, as it turns out, Cathedral had more in common with the university than just sharing the same Holy Cross instructors.
Cathedral earned their nickname from Bill Fox, then a sports writer for the Indianapolis News. Fox was on assignment covering the football game between Cathedral and Indianapolis Manual High School. In the article, he wrote, “The roster for the lads of Cathedral reads like a Dublin (Ireland) phonebook with names like Kelly, Clancy and McCarthy.”
The article was published October 21, 1921, and was the first reference to Cathedral as the “Fighting Irish” or “The Irish.”
Legendary Knute Rockne came down to Cathedral High School to participate in an event at the school. He was impressed by the kids at Cathedral, and when he returned to Notre Dame, he was quoted saying, “We are finished being the Ramblers because we have spread the good name of Notre Dame across the country. We are going to take a lesson from our little brothers (Brothers of the Holy Cross) down at Cathedral, and we will be the Notre Dame Fighting Irish From this point forward.”
Eventually, Notre Dame hired an artist out of Chicago to create a rendering of a Leprechaun, and Fighting Irish were trademarked to the University. Cathedral and Notre Dame were able to come to an agreement and Cathedral is forever grandfathered in, which is why to this day Cathedral is still referred to as the “Fighting Irish” and the Leprechaun remains the school’s mascot.
With enrollment overflowing, the Diocese decided to build an east side school —Scecina Memorial was built in the 1960’s, with Bishop Chatard following shortly thereafter. Eventually, Cardinal Ritter was built on the west side. But during that time, the Diocese gave control of Cathedral to the Holy Cross Brothers and the school, where they remained until 1972. When families began moving to the suburbs, enrollment began declining. As a result, the Holy Cross Brothers made the decision to close the school.
A group of parents, alumni and friends rescued Cathedral by forming a non-profit organization to take over the school. Robert V. Welch, a 1945 Cathedral alumnus and prominent real estate developer, organized the Cathedral Trustees, Inc. and for the next 15 years served as its Board Chairman. In 1976, the Cathedral Trustees moved their school to the former site of Ladywood School (56th St. and Emerson Way), which had itself just been closed by the Sisters of Providence.
The risks were huge and the changes were significant for Cathedral, but the opportunity for growth in the suburbs was too great to pass up. The move did not solve their financial needs because now the school was 100 percent responsible for funding. Sometimes that meant setting up a bingo night at the school just to pay the bills, and sometimes it meant the trustees wrote personal checks to cover them.
Cathedral is the only school that never closed after opening and that perseverance is still alive and well today. The school has weathered the Great Depression, multiple wars and the economic downturn in 2008. This speaks to the character of the staff, teachers, alumni and students of the school. Cathedral has a long tradition of family, community and creating not just good students but good people. Lifelong Connections is not just a motto, it is a way of life at Cathedral.
In the 1920’s, the school brought in students from the Indianapolis area, today Cathedral students come from Marion County and nine other Central Indiana counties. Students attended approximately 130 different schools before entering Cathedral. The Traditions of the Fighting Irish remain a high priority as well as continued growth and expansion for the future.
In the past century, Cathedral High school has educated some of Indianapolis’ most successful residents, including prominent businessmen and businesswomen, entrepreneurs, police and fire chiefs, scientists, sculptors, doctors, lawyers, politicians and professional athletes. Cathedral remains committed to the values of the Holy Cross Brothers.
There will be a three-day Centennial Celebration that will start with a mass at SS Peter & Paul Cathedral on September 13th, with five more events over three days. For more information about the Centennial Celebration Events, Cathedral families and alumni can get full details at gocathedral.com/100. Everyone is encouraged to be part of the celebration.
“We are extremely excited about our Centennial Anniversary,” says Cathedral Principal Dave Worland. “Our anniversary gives us a chance to reflect back on our achievements in academics, the arts and athletics. As the only Holy Cross high school in Indiana, our anniversary also gives us a chance to give thanks for all the blessings God has bestowed on our beloved school. We hope the community will join us in celebrating this milestone for Cathedral and continue to pray for our school as she embarks on her next 100 years.”