August 10, 2018

A time to look back—and forward

Cathedral High School will celebrate 100 years of spirit, struggles, sacrifices

Against the backdrop of a banner saluting the 100th anniversary of Cathedral High School in Indianapolis, freshman volleyball players Ava Yaggi, left, Audrey Gerdts and Abby Rotz are all smiles as they pose for a photo on the campus of the private Catholic school. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Against the backdrop of a banner saluting the 100th anniversary of Cathedral High School in Indianapolis, freshman volleyball players Ava Yaggi, left, Audrey Gerdts and Abby Rotz are all smiles as they pose for a photo on the campus of the private Catholic school. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

The connections to a Catholic high school can run deep for individuals and families.

That’s especially true in the archdiocese where so many people in central and southern Indiana have made a commitment of heart, soul and sacrifice to Catholic education, where so many people take great pride in their Catholic high school—knowing and appreciating all the ways it has shaped their dreams, their lives, their faith.

All those qualities, emotions and loyalties are in full force at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis this year as the private Catholic school celebrates its 100th anniversary.

The 100 years are an obvious point of pride for Cathedral, but that distinction is only part of the reason the celebration is special, say the people who love the school that began its history on Sept. 13, 1918, with 90 students.

“It’s not every day that a school celebrates its 100th anniversary, that we can pause and thank God for the blessings that have got us this far, and for what we can do to carry forward for the next 100 years,” says Denise Farrell, co-chairperson of the school’s celebration committee.

“I hope that we can celebrate the legacy of Cathedral, and bring to the forefront some of our history—that there were some struggles, that people made sacrifices, that striving for personal excellence with God’s help permeates the culture there.”

Farrell has seen that culture from many perspectives in her 39-year association with the school: as a librarian, a teacher, a coach, a guidance counselor, an athletic director, a vice principal, a parent of two graduates, a current board member and as an honorary graduate.

“I’m always seeing people at Cathedral helping in the school and helping in the community,” she says. “It’s a place where it’s expected that you step outside yourself and help change the world.”

For many older Cathedral graduates, the school’s legacy is rooted in the nearly 50 years—1927 until 1976—it was located at 14th and Meridian streets, at the site that is now the Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara Catholic Center. And that legacy was formed through the influence of the Holy Cross Brothers who served as the faculty of Cathedral during most of those years.

Jim McLinn learned the depth of that era’s loyalty through the actions of his father, a member of the Cathedral class of 1946.

“My dad, to his dying day, would get together with his classmates on the third Tuesday of every month at McQ’s Pub, and they’d end all their luncheons by singing the school song,” McLinn says.

McLinn followed in his father’s footsteps at Cathedral, playing football under the direction of the school’s legendary head coach Joe Dezelan. One day at practice, Dezelan asked McLinn, a 1970 grad, about his plans for the future, and then proceeded to tell him, “You should become a teacher and come back and teach and coach here.”

McLinn did just that in 1974 when acting president and head football coach Mike McGinley Sr. offered him a job.

“It was like coming home again,” says McLinn, who has been there ever since as a teacher, a coach, the guidance director and now vice president of operations. “The brothers and the coaches were always like second parents.”

When McLinn talks about what the school has meant to him, his father and his two sons who are also Cathedral graduates, he echoes the thoughts of a number of families whose different generations have attended the school.

“All four of us have had great experiences at Cathedral,” he says. “I’m proud to say I’m a graduate of Cathedral. I’m proud to say my high school has persevered through the good times and the tough times.”

The toughest times at Cathedral occurred in the early 1970s, a time when the school’s history notes, “Because of declining enrollments and radically shifting population patterns to the suburbs, the Brothers were convinced by 1972 that the continued operation of Cathedral was not feasible. In October of that year, the Holy Cross Brothers announced Cathedral would close, effective June 1973.”

Yet that wasn’t the end of the story. The school’s history adds that “a group of parents, alumni and friends rescued Cathedral by forming a non-profit organization to take over the school.”

That effort—led by Robert Welch, a 1945 Cathedral grad—resulted in the school being moved to 56th Street and Emerson Way in 1976. That was also the same year females were first admitted to Cathedral.

Nandi Hawkins is one of the young women in Cathedral’s class of 2019. A member of Holy Angels Parish in Indianapolis, she’s been involved in the band, the liturgy team and student life council at the school, which now has an enrollment of about 1,200 students.

“My grades have been stellar all three years I’ve been here,” she says. “My teachers care. They really are some of my main cheerleaders. Another thing I love about Cathedral is the family atmosphere. Everyone is looking out for each other. I know that no matter where I go in life, I can come back to Cathedral and find people who support me.

“It has also had a profound influence on my relationship with God. To be able to go to a school that celebrates God, I think that’s truly wonderful.”

For Nandi and so many others through the years, it all adds up to a feeling of pride and gratitude as Cathedral marks its 100th anniversary.

“It’s been here for 100 years for a reason,” Nandi says. “I thank all the people who have worked to keep it going.” †

To mark its 100th anniversary, Cathedral High School in Indianapolis will have a three‑day celebration in September

Here are the events that are planned:

  • Sept. 13 — Mass at 6 p.m. at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. Following the Mass, there will be a “Harvest Hop” at the former, longtime Cathedral High School site at 1400 N. Meridian St., which is now the Archibishop Edward T. O’Meara Catholic Center. Cost for the hop: $35.
  • Sept. 14 — Golf outing at Maple Creek Golf & Country Club in Indianapolis. $600 per foursome. Free family fanfest at the University of Indianapolis from 5-7 p.m., leading up to Cathedral’s football game against St. Xavier High School from Cincinnati.
  • Sept. 15 — Grand gala starting at 6 p.m. at the JW Marriott in Indianapolis. $500 per person.

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