By Stephanie Dolan
Roncalli High School may be celebrating its 50th anniversary, but the history of the institution goes back more than 90 years to the days of Sacred Heart High School, which was renamed John F. Kennedy Memorial High School in 1966.
A vigorous rivalry developed between Kennedy and Bishop Chartrand High School, which opened in 1962. Chartrand opened to serve a growing suburban south. Kennedy and Chartrand merged in 1969 to form one institution created to provide the very best in educational opportunities. The new school was named by students: Roncalli High School. The school was named in memory of Angelo Roncalli, more widely known as Saint John XXIII.
“To celebrate our rich heritage and now 50 years as Roncalli High School is so exciting,” Terese Carson, vice president for Institutional Advancement, said. “We stand on the foundation laid by all of the generations of Sacred Heart, Kennedy and Chartrand alumni that made Roncalli High School possible. Even though we are celebrating 50 years of providing a Christ-centered education to the Southside of Indianapolis and Johnson County, at times we feel that we are just getting started. We have experienced much success in academics, athletics, the arts and faith formation. We look forward to another 50 years and beyond of growing and being a beacon of light to many.”
Alumni making a difference around the world
Roncalli is the largest Catholic high school in the state of Indiana.
“Our students experience much success while at Roncalli and after they graduate,” Carson said. “Roncalli has alumni all over the world who are making a daily impact on our society.”
Creating an impact that can be felt around the world is something that Roncalli President Dr. Joseph Hollowell has been working at for 41 years. Time has passed quickly for both Hollowell and the institution he’s served for four decades. Just this week, he has announced his retirement in unison with Roncalli’s 50th anniversary celebration.
Hollowell has served as a chemistry teacher, football and baseball coach, principal, dean of students and president.
“The steadfast leadership of Dr. Hollowell has positively impacted tens of thousands of lives,” Gina Kuntz Fleming, superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, said. “His deep desire to serve God and His people is evident in all he does. We are most grateful for Dr. Hollowell’s service and leadership and thank him for growing Roncalli High School into such a wonderful home where students are educated and formed in the Catholic faith.”
During Hollowell’s tenure, the campus has expanded from 14 to 45 acres to meet the school’s growing enrollment. He also led a fundraising campaign to raise over $35 million that went primarily for capital improvement additions to the school and campus such as a chapel, an administrative wing, a fine arts center, an auxiliary gym and 30 additional classrooms. In addition, a new 25,000-square-foot gymnasium will be opening in November.
“Dr. Hollowell’s dedication and commitment towards the growth, success and long-term viability of Roncalli is unparalleled,” Roncalli Board Chair Dr. Jeff Amodeo said. “On behalf of the board of directors, I would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to Dr. Hollowell for his lifetime commitment, not only to Roncalli, but also to furthering Catholic education. We offer prayers and best wishes as he prepares for the next phase in his life.”
People like Hollowell can be heard on Roncalli’s new podcast.
“We are releasing a weekly podcast (which started in April) to highlight those whom have made such a significant impact on our school community,” Carson said. “We launched a 50-year website, 50.roncalli.org, to showcase highlights of the past 50 years. Our students have a special uniform shirt to signify our 50 years. Everything we do this year will focus on our 50th birthday. There is much to celebrate this year.”
Celebrating excellence in academics
Not the least of which is the academic excellence for which Roncalli is known.
“I think we’ve taken huge leaps and bounds in our academic programming both in our offerings for students as well as in the extreme quality that’s offered in all ranges,” Roncalli Principal Chuck Weisenbach said. “We’ve really been able to broaden our curriculum to meet the needs of all our students.”
Weisenbach also said that the opportunities for girls in athletics was at one time very limited and has now exploded over the years at Roncalli.
“I think what it all reflects is an incredible sacrifice,” he said. “It’s two or three generations of people – maybe families on the Southside – who continue to make huge sacrifices to make a Catholic education available. It alas represents a commitment to Catholic churches on the Southside during that time period. When I think of that 50 years, I think of the sacrifices that so many have made to make this school possible.”
“If somebody would’ve told me that we would be here 50 years from the time I came to work I would not have believed it,” Bob Tully, vice president for Mission and Ministry, said. “As you know, the Catholic schools have been through ups and downs for years and years. For us to be here it took some great leadership. We have that from Dr. Hollowell and Mr. Weisenbach as principal. I should have known that God creates miracles when people work hard.”
Roncalli will host a celebration dinner on Sept. 19.
“We are celebrating,” Tully said. “Because we’re a Catholic school and the Catholic identify of our school is second to none. As a Catholic school we try to teach our students that God is present and active in their lives. We do that very well. I think that’s the reason that God continues to smile on us with a very substantial enrollment and great teachers and great leadership. Come visit Roncalli and you’ll see what I’m talking about.”
For more information about the celebration dinner, go to 50.roncalli.org.