Tulsa's First Catholic School
Mother Katharine Drexel
In the mid 1890’s, Catholics in Tulsa petitioned Most Reverend Theophile Meerschaert, Bishop of Indian Territory, to create a school for their small town. He sought the aid of Mother Katharine Drexel, the famous millionaire nun. She donated $1,500 toward the construction of the first Catholic school in Tulsa, provided it was called St. Therese’s Institute for Creek Indian Girls. The bishop agreed.
Tulsa’s First Catholic School
Bishop Meerschaert purchased land at third and Elgin (today the location of KOTV Channel 6) and began building a small church and school. The first mass was said at Holy Family Church on Sunday, September 10, 1899. Because construction of the school was behind schedule, classes were held inside the church beginning on Monday September 11, 1899. There were 80 students at that time.
When the parish repaid Mother Drexel in 1902, they were then free to choose the new name of Holy Family School. By 1910, fueled by the growth of the oil industry, the Tulsa population had grown to 18,000. The parish outgrew its facilities and, led by their pastor, Reverend John G. Heiring, they began planning for a new church and school at Eighth Street and Boulder, located on the outskirts of Tulsa. The new school was dedicated in 1920 and from that time until 1960 the school was teeming with as many as six hundred students.
In 1960, the new diocesan high school Bishop Kelley was opened, necessitating the closing of both Holy Family and Marquette High Schools. With the closing of the high school and the movement of parishioners to the suburbs, enrollment at Holy Family dwindled and the decline continued for many years. There was talk of closing the school because the parish could not sustain it. At this time, Holy Family became a diocesan school.
The Rebirth of the School
Then in 1996, Bishop Edward J. Slattery invested over $1,600,000 to bring the building into good repair. The school was soon returned to the parish, under the leadership of Monsignor Gregory A. Gier, Rector of the Cathedral. A new era began. In the intervening years, the school has experienced a renaissance. The school now serves students from a diverse cultural base that are excelling academically and are learning and living their faith.
This bit of history illustrates Holy Family Cathedral and its school’s unique connection to both the city of Tulsa and the Catholic community. For over a century, thousands of young people have been prepared spiritually and academically to become life-long participants in the life of the church and the civic community. Its importance to the City of Tulsa is beyond measure. All Catholics of this diocese can take pride in Holy Family Cathedral and Holy Family Cathedral School.