Founding year of the Nashville Catholic High School for Boys. Founder Bishop Alphonse Smith had recognized the need for a Catholic secondary school in the diocese and opened the school, then located at 2015 West End Avenue next to the Cathedral Church and School.
The first graduating class with 20 seniors. That same year, the school launched their first yearbook, The Emerald. The title is an early reference to their adopted nickname, “Irish High.” Since Catholic High’s inception, the public had commonly referred to the school as the “Irish” due to its Catholic heritage. The name stuck and has since become part of the school’s identity.
2300 Elliston Place campus opened after outgrowing it’s West End facility after only three years. A building campaign in March 1928 raised $300,000 in 10 days for the new school, renamed Father Ryan High School. It opened to the public on May 31, 1929 and was dedicated on September 8, 1929. 1929 also marked the school’s first as the Panthers as reflected by the first edition of the yearbook entitled The Panther. They would remain the Panthers until the late 1960s when they transitioned to the official Irish name.
The new school was named for Father Abram J. Ryan, priest and chaplain of the South known for his compassion to the injured and for his literary contribution in poetry. The association of Father Ryan’s name with the school signified a bridge between the southern tradition and the Catholic tradition. The bishop’s intention was to assimilate into a community that, at the time, had little tolerance for the Catholic Church. The name was a source of southern pride that allowed the school to maintain a part of its Catholic identity.
Father Ryan was the first of two schools in Tennessee to integrate. In September 1954, four months after Brown v. Board of Education ended school segregation, a group of black students enrolled at Father Ryan. When asked by the media how many black students had enrolled in the school that year, Father Francis Shea, the principal, responded that the school doesn’t have black and white students, just Father Ryan students.
On January 4, 1965, Father Ryan’s basketball team went head to head with Pearl High School. Pearl’s powerful Tigers, long an athletic power among state and southern black schools, launched a new era for athletics when they met the Irish at Municipal Auditorium. It was the first integrated athletic contest in the city’s history.
The wrestling dynasty began as the Irish became the first state champion from outside of Chattanooga. Ten of 12 wrestlers from Father Ryan placed in the championship, including two state champions: Scott Brunette ‘69 and Bubba Donnelly ‘69.
Father Ryan wins its second state football championship, this time under the direction of Coach Boots Donnelly ’61. Coach Donnelly later went on to coach at MTSU and was inducted in the 2013 National Football Foundation Division College Hall of Fame.
Father Ryan again outgrew its facilities and during the summer of 1991 relocated to its present home at 700 Norwood Drive in the Oak Hill area of Nashville. The 40-acre site includes an academic building, administrative cloister building featuring art rooms, a band room, a dining hall and the Chapel of St. James. The Catignani-Drennan Fieldhouse features three full size basketball courts, a wrestling room, locker rooms and coaching offices. The spacious site also has softball, baseball, soccer, football fields and a track. In an ode to the former Elliston Place campus, the original front doors to the school can be seen on the Neuhoff Library.
The campus opened the Neuhoff Library and Center for the Arts. Tennessean editor emeritus John Seigenthaler, a 1945 alumnus, spoke of the 40-acre campus, “In moving from one part of town to another, in expanding the campus to what looks like a junior college, Father Ryan was ahead of the curve. And now again, with these dramatic changes, Father Ryan is making its students better prepared than ever to live, work and thrive in a changing world.”
Father Ryan became the first school in the nation to receive dual accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) and the Southern Association of Independent Schools (SAIS). The school first received SACS accreditation in 1928.
The Irish made headlines when the Jim Carell Alumni Athletic Complex opened its gates. The first home game on August 28 welcomed over 4,000 Irish fans to campus, becoming Ryan's largest crowd in decades.
The Jim Carell Fitness Center added 15,000 square feet of new space--including a new football locker room; new fitness and strength room that at 4,500 square feet is five times the size of the old one; the Patrick Simpson '74 Wrestling Facility; a sports medicine room and a new team room flanked by trophy cases showcasing the school's rich athletic history. Another 15,000 square feet of existing space was renovated to provide new locker rooms, offices, classroom space and meeting spaces for the school.