Cascia Hall Celebrates 80 Years of Progress

By R. Cole Perryman
Associate Editor

Grounds for Learning

Grounds for Learning: Cascia Hall’s meticulously landscaped grounds offer students and visitors a beautiful campus on which to conduct the school’s daily activities. Here, the lush foliage provided by another beautiful Tulsa spring frames the entrance to the Cascia Hall upper school.

Those members of The Order of Saint Augustine (Augustinians) who first opened the doors of Cascia Hall Preparatory School in 1926 would surely be proud of its growth and development. The school, which is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year, manages to balance centuries-old teaching traditions with the needs of modern students, creating a stimulating academic environment in which students can fully explore their potential.

The decision in 2005 to build a 34,000 square foot, 700 seat performing arts center (discussed later in this article) exemplifies the school’s ongoing dedication to progress. The school has expanded, renovated and constructed new buildings around campus on several occasions since its opening to facilitate growing class sizes and advances in technology. In 1999, for instance, an ambitious project was completed which greatly increased middle school classroom space and added extra room in the upper school for a new computer lab and classrooms.

When asked about the seemingly constant improvements being made around campus, Headmaster Father Bernard Scianna refers back to the words of St. Augustine. He explains, “St. Augustine said ‘always make progress; examine yourselves constantly…you must always look for more, walk onward and make progress.’ I think that the benefits students have seen from improvements around campus demonstrate the power of looking forward, and help ensure Cascia Hall’s future.”
This dedication to progress and propensity to ‘look forward’ seems also to have helped the Augustinian’s at Cascia Hall overcome various challenges the school has faced throughout the years, some of which threatened its very existence.

The school was built (and opened) in the 1920s when Tulsa’s economy was booming—large and impressive buildings and churches were springing up all over the community. Cascia’s original campus buildings included a monastery, classrooms, a gymnasium, two tennis courts and a football field.
The unique design of the buildings featured steeply-pitched slate roofs, a clinker-style brick facade and two impressive towers, and drew attention from all over town. The sprawling 40 acres upon which Cascia Hall rests was purchased from H.E. Woodward in 1926 and offered an idyllic setting for Tulsa’s new Augustinian school.

In 1928, only two years after Cascia’s doors opened, a fire completely destroyed the monastery, leaving the Augustinians who lived there literally homeless. The community immediately responded with generous donations, and the Augustinians were able to rebuild the monastery and continue on with class as scheduled.

The fire proved minor in comparison to the disaster that would befall the nation less than a year later with the onset of the great depression. For Cascia Hall, this meant a drastic decrease in an already low student enrollment rate.

In order to offset financial losses and keep the school open, The Order opted to turn Cascia Hall into a boarding school, charging standard tuition rates plus room and board.

Cascia Hall remained an all-boys boarding school from 1930 through 1985, though in the early 1970’s financial strain and a lack of religious men to operate Augustinian schools and parishes threatened to close the school once again.

Another massive fire destroyed Cascia’s Chestnut Gymnasium in 1967, reducing the once noble structure to a pile of smoldering brick and steel. This was a major financial setback for the Augustinians’, and contributed to an already growing uncertainty about the school’s future.

In 1971 the Cascia Hall board of director’s booked a flight to Chicago, the seat of the Order’s Midwestern province, and met with the Augustinians to discuss the school’s future. The board members convinced the Augustinians of the school’s importance and potential, and so managed to keep Cascia Hall open and operational.

In 1986 Cascia Hall began enrolling girls in its classes, spurred in part from the closing of the all girls Monte Casino High School two blocks north. The addition of young women in the classroom arose not only out of need, but also from emerging urgency for diversity within the school.

In fact, Cascia Hall has maintained a large non-Catholic student population since its doors opened, and with the addition of girls to the classroom the male to female ratio has become more or less split in half.

The school established a financial aid program, which distributes some $350,000 annually to families based on demonstrated need, covering the tuition costs for more than 20 percent of the entire student population.

The emergence of a more diverse student population brought with it the need for a more varied curriculum. Being an all-boys school for 60 years, the need for an extensive arts department was never in high demand, so when music and art classes did work their way into students’ curriculum, classroom space and facilities were limited.

Perhaps that is why when Cascia Hall Board members reflected on St. Augustine’s recommendation for self-examination and progress, they saw the overwhelming need to improve the school’s arts program. And so, Cascia Hall embarked on its most ambitious fundraising effort to date, successfully raising money for the construction of a new performing arts center and growing the school’s endowment.

The new, 700 seat theater and auditorium will feature a 50-foot wide stage, professional lighting and acoustics, dressing rooms, and classrooms. The Center is estimated to host more than 200 annual events, ranging from all-school assemblies and academic programs to full-blown theater and choral productions.

An aggressive construction schedule has the performing arts center building scheduled for completion in the early fall of this year, making total construction time less than a year. The timely schedule ensures minimal interruption of student activities, and allows currently enrolled students the opportunity to use the facility before they graduate.

Cascia Hall’s past 80 years have been turbulent and triumphant, filled with seemingly insurmountable obstacles and hard-won victories both in and out of the classroom. Fires, world wars, and financial crises have all threatened its existence, though the school’s unwavering dedication to education and ability to overcome have stood the test of time.

This latest addition to the Cascia Hall campus serves as a testament to the Augustinian spirit of self-improvement and progress, offering a new space for students, faculty, alumni and friends to gather and celebrate Cascia’s many years of achievements.

Updated 05-30-2006

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