Salpointe Catholic High School - 1953
The History of Salpointe Catholic High School
The Beginning: In the late 1940's, Tucson's parochial grammar schools had nine grades. The desire to build a Catholic high school for these graduates prompted the Diocese of Tucson to purchase the 40 acre Florence Addition. Salpointe Catholic High School began in 1950 as a modest school consisting of what is now the Farr Patio and cafeteria. On the first day of school Salpointe opened its doors to 100 students. (At this time Tucson High School and Amphitheater High School were the only other high schools in Tucson.) There were nine classrooms, a library and administrative offices. A back room in the cafeteria housed a locker room and showers for students taking physical education. The first principal was Rev. Victor Stoner. He was followed by Rev. Edward Carscallen and Rev. George Dyke.
The Carmelite Connection: In the summer of 1952, Msgr. Francis Green, pastor of Ss. Peter and Paul Parish, visited the Chancery Office in Chicago where he met Rev. Romaeus O'Brien, O. Carm. He mentioned that Bishop Daniel Gercke of Tucson was thinking about asking a religious order to operate Salpointe. In the spring of 1953, Msgr. Green made a formal request that the Carmelites come to Tucson. Rev. Joseph Bonaventure Gilmore, O. Carm., Provincial Counselor, and Rev. Kenneth Moore, O. Carm., Assistant Provincial, met with Msgr. Green, Msgr. Don Hughes, President of the Salpointe School Board, and other pastors. Fr. Gilmore became the first Carmelite Principal in the summer of 1953. In August, he wrote to Rev. Raphael Kieffer, O. Carm., Carmelite Provincial, asking that the two promised Carmelites arrive as soon as possible. The day school opened, Fr. Frank Florian McCarthy, O. Carm., and Fr. Carl Pfister, O. Carm. arrived from Mt. Carmel High School in Chicago. The original faculty consisted of three Carmelites, six Sisters of St. Joseph, three Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill, two Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and one Benedictine. Two laymen and one laywoman were also on the staff. On September 8, 1955, Bishop Gercke transferred ownership of the forty acres and buildings, then known as Salpointe High School, to the Carmelites for "$10.00 and other valuable considerations." Click here for information about the Carmelite Order.
The Corcoran Years: Although there was some construction prior to 1954 and after 1966, the bulk of the campus was built between these years. This was due to the generosity of Mrs. Helena S. Corcoran with the support of her husband, John P. Corcoran. In her words, "If ever there is to be a great Catholic school in Arizona, it will be here."
Mrs. Corcoran believed strongly in Catholic high school education and had a special love for students not bound for college. She wanted to provide them with skills to work in the business or industrial world. In January, 1954, Mr. and Mrs. Corcoran invited Fr. Gilmore to their home to discuss their project. The plans for the Gercke School of Vocational Arts were completed November 1, 1954. Mr. Louis Bazetta, Director of Vocational Arts Education at Tucson High School, was very helpful in the initial planning of the new facility. Mrs. Corcoran invested $8-$10 million for labs, classrooms, vocational workshops, a library, tennis courts, the gym, and athletic fields. Technical knowledge had to be supplemented with English, math, history and other academic subjects, so additional classrooms were built. The student population grew from 480 to 1,000 practically overnight. A new and exciting world of educational opportunity was now available.
In early December 1955, Fr. Gilmore was invited to spend the evening with Mr. and Mrs. Corcoran. Soon after his arrival, Mrs. Corcoran said, "I have some good advisors, Father, and they suggest that, as a Christmas present to the Carmelites, I offer to build their monastery for them." In January, 1956, Mr. Corcoran visited Fr. Gilmore at Salpointe to discuss the new monastery. He suggested a site some distance from the school in order to separate the house from school concerns. In his wisdom, Mr. Corcoran also suggested that "the walk between the school and monastery would be healthy for the fathers!"
As construction proceeded on the monastery in the spring of 1956, work also began on the baseball field. Because of the slope of the terrain toward the intersection of Mountain and Glenn, dirt had to be brought to the property. Once leveled, turfed, and marked, the field was provided with bleachers by Mrs. Corcoran. The next project was the football stadium. It is true that the students went out with buckets before practice to pick up rocks that were part of the playing field. Topsoil was eventually purchased to cover the field, but only to a depth of six inches. Salpointe was struggling financially, but a contractor wanted to interest the public schools in concrete stadiums. To introduce this type of construction, he built the stadium at a cost of $50,000. Soon after, Rincon High School built a similar stadium for $200,000. Through a Salpointe parent, the stadium lights were purchased for $19,000. Impressed with the fund-raising by faculty and parents, Mrs. Corcoran donated bleachers for the visitors' side of the stadium. It was renamed Ed Doherty Stadium in 1991.
Helena Corcoran, Salpointe's friend and benefactor, died in the summer of 1963. To complete her dream, Mr. Corcoran began an extension of the Gercke Building in 1967. It would add the present English wing to the south and the art room, physics, biology and woodworking labs to the north. Finally, two more athletic facilities were provided: the track and the softball diamond.
Mrs. Corcoran's love for young people went beyond the buildings and playing fields of Salpointe Catholic High School. On one occasion she revealed to Fr. Gilmore that she and Mr. Corcoran took time each evening to pray the Rosary while asking God's blessings on the students of Salpointe. Click here for more information about Mrs. Corcoran.
Education in the 70s and 80s: While the Gercke School of Vocational Arts was very important to Salpointe Catholic High School, other situations changed the thrust of education in Tucson. Until this time, not all Salpointe graduates continued their education. With the founding of Pima Community College, students realized that they could attend Pima College, and ultimately, if they did well, transfer to the University of Arizona. Although this situation was good for the students, it had an adverse effect on Salpointe. Fewer and fewer students opted to take vocational classes since college was now within reach of every Salpointe graduate. In 1987 Salpointe Catholic High School was certified by the Western Catholic Educational Association and accredited as Tucson's first college preparatory school by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. The North Central evaluation and accreditation in 1987 will be remembered as a significant milestone in the history of Salpointe Catholic High School. The North Central report inspired a strategic plan and review of current school facilities.
1990 and Beyond: The vision and generosity of one woman, Mrs. Helena S. Corcoran, has made Salpointe Catholic High School a superior educational setting. The Corcoran Theater, Alumni Hall, Click Computer Center, O'Donnell Plaza, and DeConcini Library are significant additions to an already exceptional campus. The 1995-1996 academic year saw the addition of Brandsma Hall, a four-classroom building near the faculty parking area, and the resurfacing of the running track, now called the O'Rielly Track. The Henry J. and Rose C. McCarthy Multipurpose Building houses a strength/fitness center as well as music and wrestling rooms. In 1997, the buildings were wired for computer technology and major updates were made in computer capacities. In 2003 the newly remodeled north wing of the school was dedicated to Fr. Florian E. McCarthy, O. Carm., and houses state-of-the-art biology, physics and chemistry labs, a counseling center and conference room, a resource center and campus ministry offices. In 2007 the school made the commitment to bring cutting edge technology into every classroom. This goal was accomplished through the generous support of the Salpointe Catholic Education Foundation, which equipped every classroom and conference room with interactive whiteboards and projectors. Now students can visit most any museum in the world or perform science experiments in conjunction with the world’s foremost labs. Additionally, thanks to the determination and generosity of a group of Lancer alumni and staff, Salpointe remodeled and rededicated the Chapel of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in honor of the 800th anniversary of the Carmelite Order. As Salpointe faces tomorrow, the school has created a master plan to meet the needs of Lancers for the next 50 years. Campaign Salpointe will seek to maximize our campus to house our strong academic, spiritual, athletic, and artistic programs as we continue to build a strong foundation for each new generation of Lancers!
Click here for information on Archbishop John Baptist Salpointe, for whom the school is named.