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.
Jim Carell Fitness Center Opens 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.
Father Ryan Band Performs At Macy's Day Parade In 2012, the Father Ryan Marching Band captured the hearts of the nation when they marched in the 2012 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and more importantly, brought a a smile and a little relief to Far Rockaway, NY a city recently hit and still reeling from the damage done by Hurricane Sandy. The band's 75-second show included elaborate movements, exceptional musicality, leaps and hurdles and robotic expressions all to the delight of the 3.5 million people lining the streets for the parade and the millions watching on TV. The band's performance was a huge success with Entertainment Weekly declaring Father Ryan's uniforms the best of the parade and the band was trending top on Twitter. It was a special moment for Father Ryan Band alumni as well - every band member who walked the parade route walked with a photo of one of the bands in Father Ryan's 65-year Marching Bandy history. Most importantly, Father Ryan students marched for 45 minutes through the streets of Far Rockaway, NY bringing out homeowners, firefighters, visitors and police officers out following the sound bringing smiles, appreciation and tears to all who were there.
After much discernment, prayer and research, Father Ryan instituted the Workers' Rigths Initiative on campus, an Initiative that speaks to the school's commitment to social justice outreach on a local, national and international level. With this Initiative Father Ryan made the decision to NOT knowingly support elements of the garment industry that profit from the unjust treatment of others and will attempt to not show any brands whose work practices are not in keeping with Catholic social teaching. When this Initiative was first announced two years ago, Father Ryan used the Jerusalem cross to cover the offending brands logo on athletic apparel, and now Father Ryan only contracts with athletic apparel companies that live to the most JUST treatment of others.
50th Anniversary of the Game that Changed the South On January 4, 1965, Pearl High and Father Ryan High School, two of the best basketball teams in the state, met at the Municipal Auditorium in the first athletic event in the South between an integrated team and an all-African-American team. The game brought more than 9,000 fans to the Auditorium for a thrilling game, won by Father Ryan at the buzzer 52-51. But, the significance of the game rebounded far beyond the score, marking a pivotal and powerful moment in the South's Civil Rights history. In 2015, members of both teams, Pearl and Father Ryan, gathered again to be honored on the 50th anniversary of this important game in history. The event was a full day of activities called A Day to Remember: The 50th Anniversary of the Game That Changed the South. The day included a speaker series with players from both teams including Perry Wallace and Walter Fisher from Pearl and Jesse Porter and Lyn Dempsey from Father Ryan and author Andrew Maraniss who wrote about this game in his book, Strong Inside and an exhibit dedication in the civil rights room at the Downtown Public Library. Later that evening current Father Ryan girls and boys teams competed in honorary games against current Pearl boys and girls teams at the same famed Municipal Auditorium where Father Ryan and Pearl faced each other 50 years ago.. In the between the games, the players from two teams were introduced to great fanfare from the crowds from both teams. It was truly a night to remember.
90th Moina Celebration At Father Ryan, journalism, the art of writing and the expression of the written word are not only celebrated, but have always played a central role in our school’s history. For 90 years, Father Ryan’s student newspaper, the Moina, has encouraged students to find their voices and tell the Father Ryan story.
Relay for Life Since 2010, Father Ryan High School has hosted Relay for Life through the leadership and commitment of our students. Inspired by the struggle of classmates who themselves battled cancer, students over the years have run this event with passion and dedication. In October 2016, nearly 50 teams with almost 1,100 total participants raised over $175,000 for the American Cancer Society, shattering our previous record and making us the top fundraising Relay for Life per capita among every high school in the world. In the past seven years, Father Ryan has raised over $600,000 for cancer research.