The Great Depression was no time to start building anything in Kansas City, Kansas, but the Catholics of the town had made a promise – a promise to themselves and to future generations. They would have a school on the hill at 18th and Barnett. They would have a school for their teenagers, a school that would carry on the centuries old tradition of education and faith working together to develop good Catholics who were also good citizens.
Catholic High had been in existence at 1236 Sandusky since 1908, but the ever enlarging number of young people needing secondary education forced the Catholic community to look around for a better site. Despite the incredible hardships of 1929-30, the relatively small group put national differences aside and raised an amount of money that was, at that time, almost unbelievable -$225,000.00.
Named after the pioneer Catholic bishop, John Ward, the new school was dedicated October 25, 1931, before a crowd of 12,000 citizens. The Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth continued their commitment to the school at its new location, and Ward began to assume even greater prominence in the lives of the people of Wyandotte County.
A sense of duty to the local community, always stressed at Ward, resulted in many graduates seeking careers in civic fields. With the coming of the second World War, young men from Ward defended their country. Many of them, in the European sector of the struggle, saw for the first time the countries their parents and grandparents had left a generation before. A marble shaft on the front campus commemorates those who sacrificed their lives defending America. The names on this stone reflect the richness of a multi-ethnic community.
War was not the only major issue confronting Ward during the 40’s. In 1945 the school became racially integrated. The Warren decision was a long way off; a number of families withdrew their students and their support. However, the majority of Ward drew pride from the fact that their school was devoted to the Christian education of the people of God.
The next decades brought literally thousands to the school as Ward experienced the results of the baby boom. Split-shifts and “up” and “down” staircases became a part of daily life. Despite the crowded conditions, academic excellence and athletic progress continued to be Ward’s trademarks.
The baby boom dwindled; population shifts occurred. The students, though fewer in number, still carry on the traditions of academic excellence established in earlier decades. Through the years the faculty has increased and broadened to include the competent lay teachers dedicated to the principles of Catholic education. So the golden tradition continues – a tradition of excellence in education, of compassionate concern for others, of deepening awareness of the Catholic faith, and of a sense of civic responsibilities.
Ward pledges its continued efforts to keep those traditional values ever before its students. The methods may change, the subjects may have different names, but the formation of good Catholic citizens in Kansas City, Kansas remains Ward’s primary concern.
By Sister Maureen Craig, SCL