The first centralized Catholic school in the Diocese of Scranton, West Side Central Catholic High School opened its doors on Wednesday, September 8, 1954. The following Sunday, September 12, the Most Revered Henry T. Klonowski S.T.D., V.G., Auxiliary Bishop of Scranton, blessed the school and dedicated it to the Blessed Mother of God. The thirteen parishes then served by the school jointly resolved to provide a spiritual, intellectual, and cultural education in the Catholic tradition. The course of study included college preparatory, commercial, home economics, and industrial arts tracks. The Very Rev. Joseph S. Gaigon, pastor of St. Ignatius Church in Kingston, supervised the construction of the school, the cost of which exceeded $1 million.
The original school building consisted of two floors and a basement level. It boasted an enrollment of 425 seventh, eighth, and ninth grade students during its inaugural year. Fourteen sisters representing five religious communities, four parish priests and four lay teachers comprised the first faculty.
In December of 1955, Bishop Jerome T. Hannan, D.D., blessed the statue of the Blessed Mother, the school’s patroness, which was placed in the main foyer. Msgr. Gaigon donated the statue in memory of his parents. During the following February, Rev. Edward T. Collins, S.T.L., released the official seal of the school with its motto, “Ut Omnes Unum Sint,” meaning “That All May Be One.” In June of 1958, the school held its first commencement exercises for 188 students, 78 boys and 110 girls.
After seven years of robust growth and progress, Father Collins announced the launch of as $211,000 expansion in December 1961, to add a third floor to the school. Seeking to increase the capacity of the school and to diversify its educational offerings, the addition provided thirteen additional classrooms, a physics laboratory, two faculty rooms and an elevator. The project, completed in August 1962, also expanded the library and cafeteria.
By late June 1972, the infamous and devastating floodwaters that resulted from Tropical Storm Agnes’ fury rendered the first floor and the basement levels unusable, with damage totaling more than $1 million. With an undaunted spirit, the school community joined in a Herculean effort to ready the school for operation by the following September. Operating without the basement for the 1972-1973 year, deadlines were met and schedules kept with minimal inconvenience. By September 1973, the basement was completely redone.
In June 1973, the school’s name was changed to Bishop O’Reilly High School, following a diocesan directive to memorialize Church leaders who championed Catholic education. Throughout the seventies and eighties, enrollment figures declined, reflecting changes in the regions demographics following the Agnes flood. Moreover, the ratio of lay-to-religious teachers underwent a transformation as well. Dwindling numbers of religious sisters and priests available to staff schools led to an increase in lay teachers.
Over the years, upgrades in technology and facilities have been made to keep O’Reilly students on the cutting edge. Computer labs were added in the 1980s and 1990s and the gymnasium and stage underwent a complete facelift.
The 2004-2005 academic year marked the fiftieth anniversary of the school’s opening. Celebrations were held throughout the year to mark this golden moment in the school’s rich and storied history, including a special liturgy celebrated by Bishop Joseph F. Martino in October, and an all-class reunion dinner dance in April, attended by alumni, current and past faculty and friends of the school. The boy’s basketball team enjoyed the sweet taste of success in 2004 and 2005, capturing consecutive Class A state championship trophies in Hershey.
In 2006, the Diocese of Scranton hired Meitler Consultants to conduct a study of the diocesan Catholic school system. In November of 2007, the firm presented a draft proposal for the reconfiguration of diocesan schools. This plan called for the closure of Bishop O’Reilly, along with four other high schools in Luzerne County, in order to create one new merged high school at the Bishop Hoban campus in Wilkes-Barre. Nearly 500 concerned Bishop O’Reilly parents, alumni, and friends soon met to draft a counter-proposal that offered a feasible, financially sound alternative to closing O’Reilly. The group’s sincerity, determination, and manner were a testament to the strong O’Reilly tradition and values. Unfortunately, after hours of hard work, the Bishop Joseph F. Martino and the Meitler firm wholly rejected all counter-proposals. Bishop O’Reilly graduated its last class in May of 2007 and has since been converted into a regional elementary school. Most underclassmen transferred to the new Holy Redeemer High School in Wilkes-Barre.
Today, the O’Reilly tradition lives on through its thousands of successful alumni. The educational legacy at 316 North Maple Avenue continues through Good Shepherd Academy, a regional elemntary school, as well as at the consolidated Catholic high school, Holy Redeemer, in Wilkes-Barre.
Principals of West Side Central Catholic and Bishop O’Reilly
- Rev. Edward L. Collins, 1954-1964
- Rev. P. Lawrence Homer, 1964-1965
- Msgr. Thomas M. Jordan, 1965-1968
- Rev. Daniel D. Hitchko, 1968-1974
- Msgr. Vincent J. Grimalia (Administrator), 1974-1983
- Rev. Theodore M. Marcinko, 1983-1985
- Rev. Michael Piccola, 1985-1991
- Mrs. Anita Sirak, 1991-1998
- Mr. Robert Hines, 1998-1999
- Mr. Al Kozlek, 1999-2000
- Miss Susan Dennen, 2000-2007
Parishes served by the school
- St. Frances X Cabrini, Carverton
- Gate of Heaven, Dallas
- Our Lady of Victory, Harvey’s Lake
- St. Cyril & Methodius, Kingston
- St. Anthony, Kingston
- Saint Ignatius, Kingston
- Saint Mary’s Annunciation, Kingston
- Saint John the Baptist, Larksville
- St. Martha, Fairmount Springs
- St. Ann, Luzerne
- St. John Nepomucene, Luzerne
- Saint Stephen, Plymouth
- St. Vincent, Plymouth
- St. Mary, Plymouth
- Saint Therese, Shavertown
- St. Mary, Swoyersville
- Holy Name, Swoyersville
- Holy Trinity, Swoyersville
- Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Lake Silkworth
Who was Bishop O’Reilly?
West Side Central Catholic High School was renamed for Bishop Thomas C. O’Reilly, the third Bishop of the Diocese of Scranton. Bishop O’Reilly was a native of Cleveland, Ohio, and a graduate of Rome’s North American College. He was ordained to the episcopacy by Dennis Cardinal Dougherty in St. John’s Cathedral, Cleveland, on February 16, 1928. He had previously served as pastor of the Cathedral and Vicar General of the Diocese of Cleveland. He was installed as Bishop of Scranton in St. Peter’s Cathedral, March 8, 1928. An academician of the first rank, the scholarly Bishop O’Reilly ranked at the top of his class in almost every course, while studying in the eternal city. At the age of 28, he was appointed resident professor in Dogmatic Theology at St. Mary’s Seminary in Cleveland. Despite his relatively brief tenure as Bishop of Scranton, though beset by a debilitating illness which marred the last four years of his life, he created 14 schools in the diocese and approved the formation of seven new parishes, notwithstanding the fiscally chaotic conditions existing in the area during the Depression.