This day, after more than two months of daily commuting to Cardinal O’Hara High School in order to attend to endless details of preparing for school opening in September, Fr. Henry, Guardian, and Fr. Martin, Vicar, left (the) Notre Dame Friary at Baker-Victory High School in Lackawanna, to occupy (the) St. Lawrence Friary at Cardinal O’Hara High School, (in the) Town of Tonawanda. While little else was ready, sufficient furniture was available for lodging.
So begins the “Chronica,” a daily account of life at Cardinal O’Hara kept by the Franciscan Friars for the first five years of the school’s existence. No one is certain who kept the well-documented book, but the entries give insight into the thoughts, feelings, and events of those early formative years at COHS.
The early days of COHS saw a great deal of growth, both in the building itself and among the student population. Three hundred twenty freshmen gathered in the cafeteria the very first day of school in 1961. In 1963, 358 eighth grade students completed the entrance exam, with 320 selected. A year later, 474 sought admission, with 320 admitted. In September 1964, the school was at full capacity with nearly 1,200 students, 12 Franciscan Friars, nine Sisters of St. Mary, and 30 teachers.
By the 1970’s, Cardinal O’Hara had solidified its role in the community. Until 1971, COHS was co-institutional, with separate wings for “girls” and “boys.” When Bishop Gibbons High School closed in 1971, the Felician Sisters took over from the St. Mary of Namur Sisters and COHS became co-educational. Scholastically and socially, there was a great variety of clubs and organizations for students to engage in. The tradition of student involvement continues, as more than 90 percent of our current student population participates in extra-curricular activities.
In the mid- to late-1980’s, the school took on a new life with Middle States Accreditation, an upswing in enrollment, and the formation of an advisory board. The 25th anniversary year was marked with a number of events, which focused community attention on COHS. Student enrollment increased within a 20-mile radius. Students no longer wore uniforms but adhered to a dress code. In 1987, the first two children of alumni graduated, and in 1988, Fr. Gregory (’69) became the first graduate to return as principal. Since then, COHS has had many alumni return to the school to serve as staff and faculty.
At the completion of the 1989 academic year, the Franciscan Friars departed COHS due to a shortage of priests in the area. Due to the strong foundation laid by the friars, and the continued support of the Felician Sisters, the school forged ahead into a new era.
The 1990s saw more expansion into the community for Cardinal O’Hara High School. Our first annual community fundraising event, Hawktion, was held in 1994, and recently celebrated its 22nd anniversary. The event has become a staple among community events and is the largest fundraising source for the school. Traditional events are scattered throughout each year, including the junior/senior prom, junior ring ceremony, the spring musical, Hawk Walk, and spirit week…creating unique memories for students and staff of their days at Cardinal O’Hara.
As the world entered the new millennium, O’Hara continued to adapt to the changing world of private education. Improvements in the facility and grounds, technology updates helped to keep the school relevant in the WNY community. Additions to the curriculum including CIAO- Culinary Institute at O’Hara, a revamping of the Fine Arts program and STEAM initiatives helped grow the enrollment.
As Cardinal O’Hara gets ready to celebrate its 60th anniversary in 2021, the school is excited about continuing the primary mission of educating young men and women in the Franciscan traditions.