When it opened in 1923, St. Charles Borromeo Preparatory School was the realization of a dream for Bishop James J. Hartley, the fourth bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Columbus.
Bishop Hartley valued the advantages of the sound Christian and classical education he had received and set out to establish an all-boys school which fostered those principles. The Bishop hoped that the school would supply vocations to the priesthood and produce laymen dedicated to the Church.
The first St. Charles class met in September 1923 in an extra classroom in the old Sacred Heart School, one mile north of downtown Columbus. Five Diocesan priests comprised the first faculty to teach 14 students. The enrollment swelled to 52 students the second year.
During that first year, Bishop Hartley found a permanent site for St. Charles on 20 acres of land on East Broad Street known as the Kelly Farm. The Bishop purchased the land and ground was broken on July 2, 1924. The building architect, Robert J. Kraus, incorporated a mix of French Renaissance and Mediterranean designs. The C.J. Lang Co., of Columbus built at a cost of $240,000 what would be one of Ohio’s first steel-reinforced concrete structures. On the Feast of St. Charles, November 4, 1925, Bishop Hartley solemnly dedicated the new buildings, which consisted of the main building and the power plant.
Msgr. Joseph A. Weigand was appointed the first rector of St. Charles and served in that capacity for 17 years. The Sisters of St. Francis of Penance and Christian Charity of Stella Niagara, New York, arrived in 1925 to staff the domestic department at the Bishop's request and worked in the chapel, kitchen and laundry until 1976.
In 1928, the first class of college seniors began construction of a grotto in honor of our Lady of Lourdes. The grotto has been a St. Charles landmark ever since. In late 1930, construction was started on a new gymnasium. The old gym was located in the basement of the southeast wing of the main building and was too small for the growing enrollment. Later that year an extension to the northeast wing of the main building was completed. Enrollment stood at 177, including 87 boarders.
A new chapel was erected in 1937 and was dedicated to Our Lady of Mercy. Considered one of the finest worship spaces in Central Ohio, the chapel is Romanesque with a basilica sanctuary. The blue stained-glass windows, featuring saints to whom Bishop Hartley was especially devoted, are looked upon as some of the most faithful reproductions of medieval stained glass in the United States.
The 1940 school year opened with a student enrollment of 227 in the prep school and 28 in the college. Following the cultural trends in the 1930s, there was an increased specialization in the field of drama. Bishop Hartley decided to build a separate, modern theater to replace the old theater-gymnasium in the basement of the main building. This Theatre Building, the basement of which also served as the school’s new library, was dedicated on September 8, 1941. That year, Msgr. Edward J. Leinheuser was appointed second rector of St. Charles, but his term lasted only four years due to ill health. Rev. John J. Kerrigan took over for a brief time as acting rector.
In January 1945, Bishop Michael J. Ready was installed as the fifth bishop of Columbus. His interest and concern for St. Charles remained constant throughout the 12 years of his administration. Bishop Ready appointed Rev. Paul J. Glenn as the third rector of St. Charles in August 1945. On May 28, 1947, the school dedicated 12 Japanese crabapple trees lining the front walk, honoring the 12 alumni who lost their lives in the armed forces during World War II. In 1948 the school marked its silver jubilee with a new main entrance gate featuring two eight-foot posts of Vermont marble surmounted by Florentine-type lamps.
Following further growth of the school, another building expansion took place in 1951. Enrollment in the prep school was over 300 and there were over 60 students in the college department. The gymnasium was enlarged to double the seating capacity.
In 1957 Rev. Paul J. O'Dea was named the first principal of the prep school. Msgr. O'Dea's understanding of boys, his teaching ability and his intense desire to develop St. Charles made his tenure as principal one of the most memorable in the school's history. On February 11, 1958, Bishop Clarence G. lssenmann was installed as the sixth Bishop of Columbus. He, like his predecessors, maintained a close relationship with St. Charles. In August 1958 he appointed Msgr. George T. Wolz rector of St. Charles to succeed Msgr. Glenn.
In January 1959 a winter thaw was accompanied by torrents of rain, which was too much for a usually lazy Alum Creek. The whole campus was quickly inundated, which led to the flooding of the entire basement and the lower chapel floor. Initial damage was estimated at $150,000. The Army Corps of Engineers was called in to construct an earthen flood barrier which would protect the campus from future flooding.
In the late 1950s, vocations to the priesthood began to diminish out of proportion to the growth of the diocese. After much deliberation it was decided in late 1961 to admit to the prep school only students who expressed a serious interest in the priesthood. At the time it was felt that there were sufficient inter-parochial high schools to meet the needs of Catholic students. This was the first time in St. Charles history that the school was to exist solely for the purpose of educating future priests. The new enrollment policy brought about a withdrawal from athletic league competition.
In the spring of 1964, Jack Ryan, who had taught and coached the three major sports of football, basketball, and baseball for 26 years, resigned to take a teaching and coaching position at Bishop Hartley High School. While at St. Charles, Mr. Ryan compiled an overall record of 932 victories and 414 losses.
In 1965, Bishop John J. Carberry was installed as seventh Bishop of Columbus. The Second Vatican Council was in session and the Bishop worked to implement the then-promulgated decrees of the council, especially as they affected St. Charles. In 1968, Bishop Carberry was succeeded by Bishop Clarence E. Elwell, who made the diocesan seminary at St. Charles one of his first considerations. Because of the admissions restrictions placed on the prep school, the enrollment had dropped from 350 in 1961 to 65 in 1968.
In 1969, it was decided to reopen the prep school to all students and to suspend the operation of the college department. The school began to expand again under the principalship of Msgr. Ralph J. Huntzinger, of the Class of 1942, who found it necessary to add new faculty members, mostly laymen. In 1971, Rev. Charles A. Jackson, a faculty member since 1963, was named principal. During the first few years of Father Jackson's administration the school maintained a steady growth in enrollment. New courses were added, and students had the freedom to choose from a number of elective course offerings.
On November 4, 1973, the 50-year anniversary of the founding of the school was observed. A Mass was concelebrated by Bishop Edward J. Herrmann, Auxiliary Bishop Edward G. Hettinger, priest-faculty and priest-alumni. Under Father Jackson’s direction, the Board of Trustees was replaced by the St. Charles Advisory Board. The Board’s valuable input, through its combined business, economic, educational and legal knowledge, presents a continuous appraisal of the philosophy and programs of the school and the role and vision of St. Charles within the community.
In July of 1976, Rev. Daniel W. Pallay, a member of the Class of 1962, succeeded Father Jackson as principal. For the next 10 years the student body grew from 317 to nearly 450, and the faculty grew from 20 to 28. The school opened up its fourth floor by adding several classrooms and laboratories, relocated the library from the Theater Building to the second-floor prep dormitory area, improved its athletic facilities by replacing the gym floor, adding new locker rooms and a new lobby with trophy cases, and building a new multi-purpose room.
The weekend of November 4-6, 1983, marked the 60-year anniversary celebration. Bishop James A. Griffin celebrated Mass and dedicated the new multi-purpose room and locker facility. Bishop George A. Fulcher, a devoted alumnus, advisor and promoter of St. Charles, delivered the homily.
In July 1985, Dominic J. Cavello, a member of the Class of 1964, was named the first lay principal of St. Charles. A faculty member since 1972, Mr. Cavello had served as an assistant principal and dean of discipline for 10 years prior to his appointment. Under his leadership, the school’s enrollment and physical facilities enjoyed a period of unprecedented growth.
In 1988, the St. Charles Endowment was established under the foresight and leadership of several alumni. The founding purpose of the endowment was to provide a perpetual source of scholarship aid to students in need. In 1991, the third-floor Holy Angels Chapel was converted to the Holy Angels Library. An all-school window replacement project soon followed, with further improvements to the chemistry and physics labs. Also that year, the school dedicated The Dedger and Rose Jones Natatorium thanks to a landmark gift to the school. Five years later, in 1996, the school again expanded its athletic facilities when it dedicated the Jack Ryan Student Training and Fitness Facility.
In 1998, the school instituted its Borromean Medals to recognize alumni and advocates who have achieved at the highest levels, and two years later instituted its Principal’s Medal for Distinguished Service to recognize those who are tireless in their gifts of time and talent to the school. In 1999 the Resurrection Garden memorializing two young alumni was dedicated on a knoll overlooking the grotto. In 2000, a plaza and statue paying tribute to the school’s faculty, staff, and alumni priests were built next to the Theatre Building. The statue was created by local artist and Holocaust survivor, Alfred Tibor.
In July 2001, the school launched a $10 million capital campaign, The Campaign for St. Charles – Phase I, which secured the future of the school through $8 million in commitments for endowed scholarships, faculty recruitment and retention funds, and a technology-improvement fund. Another $2 million provided the school with a new entrance and signage off Broad Street, a front driveway known as Cardinal Circle, a renovated front entrance named the Msgr. Thomas M. Bennett Courtyard, a new elevator for handicapped students and visitors, new doors and flooring throughout the school, and a new heating and cooling system throughout the main building.
In the spring of 2005, The Campaign for St. Charles – Phase II was launched to raise $4.6 million for a student convocation center and a student services center. Less than one year later, in November 2006, the Robert C. Walter Student Commons and the St. Charles Student Services and Fine Arts Center were dedicated.
In February 2007, work began on a new multi-sport athletic field, named Walt Plank Field. The stadium improvements project also featured a handsome new front entrance with four ticket booths, two new dugouts complete with storage areas, and a new concessions area.
The fall of 2011 saw the ground broken for the Robert D. Walter West Campus which was completed two years later. It marked the school’s first expansion beyond its original 26-acre site. West Campus’s Savko Athletic Complex provides additional athletic practice and competition areas including the Dominic and Kathleen Cavello Field (turf) and a new track which is used for all Cardinal athletic teams, and an impressive new weight training and conditioning facility. The project also included the construction of two parking lots with 111 spaces for daily student use and for special campus events, and a pedestrian access bridge across Alum Creek.
The fall of 2014 saw the conversion of the Jack Ryan Student Training and Fitness Facility, originally completed in 1999, into a much-needed locker room and additional coaches’ offices. In addition, the Paul G. Heller ’82 and Family Observation and Timing Deck was added to the school’s Rose and Dedger Jones Natatorium.
At the start of the 2015-2016 school year, the final touches were finished on the preservation of the Holy Angels Library, including the restoration of more than 50 historically significant stained glass windows and painted wall frescoes. During the summer of 2016, there was a focus on preserving the artistic features of the 78 year-old Mother of Mercy Chapel, including its historically significant and inspiring stained glass windows and restoring the Chapel’s wooden pews, as well as the walls, floor and limestone columns.
In 2016, the school’s gymnasium was renovated and St. Charles purchased a triangular-shaped parcel of land about 9 acres in size at 1824 East Long Street. Located on the opposite side of the railroad trestle alongside the Robert D. Walter West Campus, the school had been looking for opportunities to expand its stretched facilities, determined it would build a large facility to accommodate several student groups under the same roof on the site. It would house the St. Charles Robotics Team, the “My Brother’s Keeper” Mentoring Program and a large athletic and recreational area with basketball courts and an indoor golf practice facility.
In 2018, to help navigate its way through the next generation of changes to its campus and curriculum, it created a Master Plan. In 2020, the school embarked on The Vision for the Future Campaign. In addition to increasing the St. Charles Endowment Fund by more than $5 million, it also included work directly on two substantial segments of the Master Plan: the construction of the Frank E. Murphy ’54 Convocation Center and the renovation and beautification of Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto. Those projects are set to be completed in the spring of 2023.
Continuing with St. Charles's Master Plan
And most recently, the school announced its intent to continue with its Master Plan and the construction of a new Learning Resource Center. This multi-story center will become an educational and technological information destination and its flexible layout will encourage collaborative work.
As the school approaches its Centennial Birthday, the world of 2022 differs much from that of the 1920s.
But the ageless mission of preparing young men for life-long learning, coupled with prayer, hard work, dedication and sacrifice, has been retained here at St. Charles and will continue as it builds leaders for the next 100 years!
St. Charles Preparatory School admits students of any race, color, national and ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities made available to students at the school. It does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national and ethnic origin in administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic and other school-administered programs.