A History of Benedictine High School
In the prologue of the Holy Rule which he wrote for his followers in the 6th century, St. Benedict tells them that they are to know God better and serve Him through “faith and the perfonnance of good works.” From the actual days of St. Benedict, his monks have been training young men in the ways of God. The work of education has been a popular Benedictine endeavor not only because St. Benedict had even welcomed young boys for training in his monastery, but also because it allows the monks to pray and work as a family within the property of the monastery as St. Benedict had directed them to do. This sense of community has been the trademark of Benedictine life and education for nearly 1500 years.
Benedictine education in Cleveland can look back to 1922 for its origin. In that year Bishop Joseph Schrembs of Cleveland granted the request of a group of Slovak diocesan priests for the establishment of the Benedictine Order in Cleveland. The Abbot of St. Procopius Abbey in Lisle, Illinois (a monastic foundation of Czech background) sent Father Stanislaus Gmuca, O.S.B. in February of 1922 to assume control of St. Andrew’s parish on East 51st and Superior Avenue. The goal of the Benedictines was to establish a base to care for the spiritual needs of the Slovaks in Cleveland and in particular to begin a high school for the training of young men.
In 1927, Father George Luba, O.S.B., was sent from Illinois to open a boys’ high school at St. Andrew’s parish. On September 8, 28 young men registered for the first day of classes at Benedictine High School, located in classrooms above St. Andrew’s Church. In the next few years, incoming classes boosted the enrollment to a full four-year program. Father Gregory Vaniscak, O.S.B., who had organized the establishment of the Cleveland Benedictines while still in Illinois, arrived in Cleveland in 1928 as the first superior of the community.
With the financial assistance of the Slovak Catholic Educational Foundation, which spearheaded a nationwide financial drive, Father Gregory, the Conventual prior, negotiated the purchase of Mount St. Mary’s Institute for Girls at 10510 Buckeye Road from the Notre Dame Sisters in 1929. The separate floors in the main building served as monastic quarters, high school facilities, and as a boarding residence for the numerous students who attended Benedictine from out-of-state.
In 1931, the first graduating class received their diplomas from Benedictine. Among the 32 graduates were Valedictorian Andrew Novotny (now Father Cyril — 43 year member of BHS faculty), Andrew Slimak (Father Bernard — former long-time faculty member), John Podobnik (Father Thomas — 40 year member of BHS faculty), and Peter Jenco (the late Father Aloysius). Father Ivan Kramoris, O.S.B., principal (1930-32) obtained a charter from the State of Ohio for the four-year high school in 1931.
The 1930s would see BHS continllally expanding. The enrollment increased from about 100 to 300 students at the end of the decade. In addition to Father Ivan, Fathers Wendelin Kravec (1934-31) and Andrew Pier, O.S.B. (1937-41) also served as principals of the young school.
The college prep curriculum was enhanced by the opening of the art department in 1931 by Mr. George Krispinsky. Also in that year, Father Andrew initiated the first school newspaper. In the 30s, the basic sports were football, baseball and basketball. The football team began fielding a team in 1929 and struggled to make a name for itself against the established football traditions of city schools. An upset victory over St. Ignatius in 1934 marked the start of a Benedictine football tradition which would grow steadily through the coming years.
In 1934, Father Stanislaus was elected the first Abbot of St. Andrew’s Abbey and President of Benedictine High School. He would guide the developing institutions for the next 12 years.
On April 18, 1940, Bishop James McFadden laid the cornerstone for the new Benedictine High School building at 2900 East Boulevard. The handsome, yellow-bricked structure was completed in the early fall, but a near-tragedy struck on November 1, 1940. A boiler explosion caused 875,000 damage to the new structure, yet miraculously claimed no fatalities since classes were not in session for All Saints’ Day.
The war years of the early 40s left their mark on BHS history. Air-raid attack drills were initiated in the school. 650 graduates entered the armed services during World War II and 22 of these young men gave their lives for their country.
The enrollment jumped after the war hitting 1000 in 1948. Abbot Stanislaus lent support to the establishment of a machine shop in 1941. Father Daniel Novak, O.S.B., Mr. Clem Strohmeier, and Father Cyril directed the early industrial arts courses. The shop program would last until it was discontinued in 1956. In 1947, when additions were made to the third floor of the new school, a separate shop building was constructed. It was rechristened as the Science Building in 1960.
Principal Father Armand Gress, O.S.B. (1941-44) organized the first marching band in September, 1942 with Mr. Jack Hearns. Earlier a student orchestra had been functioning under Mr. Frank Suhadolnik. Within three years, the new marching band earned recognition as the top band in the city. A Glee Club was formed in 1944.
The school boasted a renowned aeronautics depmtment begun in 1941 by Father Method Granchie, O.S.B. It was authorized by the U.S. government as a ground training school. The successful program lasted 15 years and provided students with extensive theoretical knowledge and experiential opportunities in the art of flying.
Mr. Leonard Pchola reactivated dramatics with the Footlights Club in 1940. Fathers George and Cyril later took over the direction of the drama club and drew audiences of over 900 for several popular productions during this decade. In 1945, principal Father Louis Hudak, O.S.B. (1944-46), organized the Dads’ Club as the first parental school organization. Beginning in 1947, the Dads’ Club sponsored very successful yearly indoor bazaars which significantly assisted the development of RHS for a number of years.
Mr. Joseph Rufus joined the Benedictine sports program in 1945. He would become one of the legendary figures in BHS history remaining involved with the school as teacher, coach, and athletic director until the present. By the mid-1940s the major sports flourished at Benedictine. In 1916, the school won its first city championship in basketball. The year 1948 can be considered the beginning of Benedictine’s rise to becoming a topped-ranked football power in northern Ohio. In that year, Benedictine achieved its first victory over arch-rival Cathedral Latin before 20,000 fans in the Cleveland Stadium. The team went on to capture its first Charity game Championship and later that year took baseball and basketball championships to be the first school to achieve the triple crown.
In 1946, Father Theodore Kojis, O.S.B., a mathematics teacher, was elected second Abbot of St. Andrew’s Abbey and President of Benedictine. He would direct the development of both institutions for the next 20 years.
The 1950s marked Benedictine’s emergence as one of the foremost Catholic Cleveland high schools. The History of the Diocese of Cleveland, published in 1953, recorded that “Benedictine High School has developed into one of the largest (schools) in the diocese.” In 1952 BHS attained its highest all-time enrollment — 1115 students. The faculty consisted of 23 monks and 13 laymen under principal Father Benedict Dobrancin, O.S.B. (1951-57).
The increased student body led to the development of the school curriculum. In 1952 the Industrial Arts building expanded to four times its orginal size to house a variety of courses in that department. Also in that year, the meteorological tower and laboratory was opened under the direction of Father Gregory Oravec, O.S.B. making BHS the only school in the city with such advanced meteorological facilities. Driver Education was another addition to the program.
In 1953, Benedictine was accepted as a member of the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools. The science department blossomed under the tutelage of Fathers Raphael Zbin, O.S.B. (Biology), Cyril Novotny, O.S.B. (Physics), Basil Brin, O.S.B. (Chemistry), and Mr. Joseph Pastor (Chemistry). The BHS contribution to the 1953 State Science Fair merited a rating of excellent. The 1957 Diocesan Science Fair found 23 of the 53 projects which earned highest honors coming from Benedictine.
Father Donald Baydik, O.S.B., brought city, state, and national recognition to Benedictine through his work with the school publications. Known for his perfectionist attitude, Father Donald sent his editors to summer Journalism Institutes at the Catholic University in Washington D.C. where he himself taught for several summers. In 1957, The Bennet newspaper took the top ratings in the four major scholastic press associations. In 1954 it had been the first Diocesan school paper to receive the Northeastern Ohio Press Association Donaghy trophy.
The BHS sports program reached its zenith in 1957 as the Bengals captured their first State AAA Football Championship. Augie Bossu, a former Cathedral Latin head coach, was hired to assist Joe Rufus in 1953. The next year found Bossu at the helm of the varsity football squad as Rufus became Athletic Director. Bossu, now in his 23rd year as head coach has led Benedictine football teams to an overall record of 152 wins, 54 losses, and 13 ties. In 1953, alumnus Chuck Noll ’49 signed with the Cleveland Browns becoming the first BHS grad to receive a contract from a national pro football team. Father Augustine Yurko, O.S.B. organized the Parent-Boosters Club in 1959 which would develop into one of the most active and successful groups in the schuol’s history.
The 1960s began with the largest expansion of the physical plant of Benedictine. After a successful financial drive, a new gymnasium was erected in 1962. The modern, functional design gym with distinctive pagoda roof can seat 1400. The former gym was divided into two floors; the lower being converted into the cafeteria and the upper into a combination study hall — auditorium.
The curriculum continued its growth responding to the needs of the times. In 1961, Benedictine’s science program was judged as best in the northeastern Ohio district by the junior division of the Ohio Academy of Science. In addition to an extensive Latin language sequence, Benedictine enrolled students in the study of French, Spanish, German, Slovak and Russian. In previous years courses were also offered in Polish, Slovenian, and Hungarian.
Using money earned by the students in the annual chocolate drives, principal Father Robert Wilkes, O.S.B. (1957-62 and 1966-69) contracted to have the school wired for commercial and closed-circuit television in 1968. Later a student television production studio was opened and a student crew trained by Fr. Norbert Ozimek, O.S.B. The television program has developed into a popular and versatile aspect of the BHS curriculum.
In 1966, Abbot Theodore resigned as Abbot of St. Andrew’s Abbey and President of Benedictine after 20 years of creative leadership during the school’s expansion years. He was succeeded by popular BHS chaplain, Father Jerome Koval, O.S.B. Beloved for his friendly personality and respected for his dedication to Benedictine High School, Abbot Jerome has moved to direct Benedictine through some of the more challenging years in its history.
In keeping with the growing trend in the Church to involve laymen in areas of concern to them, Abbot Jerome restructured the BHS school board in 1968 and appointed the first non-faculty members to the board. In September of 1969, Abbot Jerome appointed Father Roger Gries, O.S.B., as principal of Benedictine. A 1954 graduate of Benedictine, Father Roger had received the MR. BENEDICTINE award as a senior — meritting the highest student award at Benedictine.
Beginning in the late 1960s and continuing into the present, Benedictine felt the effects of the financial crisis which threatened private education accross the country. By the end of the decade the higher costs resulted in a smaller enrollment. However, the educational goals of Benedictine students increased. In 1963, 62 percent of the graduating seniors entered college. By 1968, nearly 75 percent of all graduates pursued higher education.
In 1972, after 35 years, Benedictine ended its affiliation with the East Senate Football league. In 223 total league games, the Bengals had won 157, lost 57, and tied 9. The record represents a winning percentage over every other Senate foe, including Latin, a fact which no other league member can boast. The Bengals hold three major senate records. First, they have won or shared the East Senate title 20 times. Secondly, they have appeared in 17 City Championship games, winning 11, losing 4, and tying 2. Thirdly, their 11 championship victories (City) is tops in the Senate.
In 1973, only two years after Benedictine left the East Senate, the Bengals won the State AA Football Championship — attaining the first spot in the state in the division of medium-sized schools. Governor John Gilligan presented the State trophy in the Benedictine auditorium on December 18, 1973.
The 1970s have found Benedictine reaching out in new ways to meet the needs of students in a changing society and working to keep costs down so as to insure the long range future of Benedictine education in Cleveland
To provide easier access to the school, Benedictine has greatly expanded its bus service in the last three years. From one downtown bus trip, the service has expanded to include a four route program for the next school year providing busses to Public Square, St. Clair Avenue, Fleet Avenue, Euclid, Cleveland Heights, Garfield Heights, Maple Heights, Mayfield, Lyndhurst, and Independence.
Under the direction of principal Father Roger, BHS has maintained its religious identity as a Catholic institution while also providing opportunities for a limited number of non-Catholic students to benefit from a Benedictine education. The school still maintains a larger number of religious faculty members (20) than lay teachers (13) — one of the few diocesan high schools to have such a situation.
The curriculum has expanded to include new areas of study. Courses in psychology, criminology, and anthropology have been introduced. A new emphasis has been given to developing student awareness of the Fine Arts. Every freshman is now required to enroll in the Humanities course, which consists of 12 weeks each of music, art, and drama. Likewise, four-year programs in Latin, French, Gennan and Spanish as well as Studio Art are available to interested students. The success of the college-centered curriculum can be seen in the fact that over 80 percent of the last graduating class are now enrolled in college.
Benedictine has also added depth to its extracurricular program. The Benedictine yearbook staff received much recognition in recent years for quality craftsmanship in the production of the school annual. The 1974 Benedictine yearbook was featured in the nationwide magazine of the Taylor Publishing Company. The school band attends summer band camp each year at Rio Grande College in southem Ohio. A Human Relations Board was formed in 1971 and successfully fosters activities among the various segments of the school population. The Drama Club, under the direction of Father Timothy Buyansky, O.S.B., produces a Fall and Spring show each year. On April 3, 1977 the Drama Club won gold, silver and bronze medals at the Cleveland Theatre Conference dramatics meet. In 1970, the Ski Club joined the roster of school acivities.
Over the past two years, Benedictine has experienced a gradual increase in enrollment with 450 boys now attending the school. The high school chapel was remodeled this past summer and a grant from the St. Ann Foundation enabled the school clinic to expand into a multi-room health center under school nurse, Brother Philip Petrow, O.S.B.
In sports, the Bengals continue to field winning teams. The football squads play an important schedule: the varsity, reserve, and freshman teams all posting winning seasons this past Fall. The school also maintains varsity, junior varsity, and freshman basketball teams and varsity and reserve squads in baseball. The Bengals also boast teams in wrestling, track, cross country, hockey and howling. A training squad and extensive intramural program involve students at other times during the school year.
On March 21, 1977, Ahbot Jerome appointed Father Dominic Mondzelewski, O.S.B., a 1960 graduate of BHS, as the new principal for the 1977-78 school year. Father Jonathan Zingales, O.S.B., will be the new assistant principal.
As Benedictine High School begins its next half century of Catholic education for young men, it will continue to operate out of the same perspective of its founder, Father George Luba, O.S.B., who opened the doors of BHS to meet the needs of the Church and to carry out the tradition of work and prayer of the founder of the Benedictine Order, St. Benedict.
SOME NOTED ALUMNI
Chuck Noll (1949) — Head Coach Pittsburgh Steelers Football team.
Robert Zion (1962) — Head of “Up Downtown Cleveland, Inc.”
Raymond Kudukis (1957) — Utilities Director of the City of Cleveland.
Jerome Stano (1950) — Ohio State Representative, District 7, Parma.
Tom Weiskopf (1960) — Professional golfer.
John J . Koral (1952) — District Vice Chancellor for Educational Planning and Development of Cuyahoga Community College (Former President of the Western Campus).
Jim Swingos (1959) — Owner and manager of the Keg and Quarter Restaurant and Celebrity Motel.
George Sevcik (1958) — Backfield coach — Cleveland Browns Football team.
Source: JEDNOTA ANNUAL FURDEK 1978