In the early 1900’s very few high schools existed in Cincinnati. In 1912 the parishioners of St. Lawrence Parish in Price Hill persuaded their pastor to add a ninth grade to the elementary school and a tenth grade the following year. The school was named Elder High School to honor the archbishop who had laid the cornerstone of their church in 1886.
This two-year school originally educated only boys. In 1920 girls were permitted to enroll. Parents of west-side parishes petitioned their pastors to establish a four-year central high school for their children. Rev. Louis J. Nau, former pastor of St. Lawrence Church, appealed to Archbishop Henry Moeller for permission to establish a four-year high school. The founding parishes were the following: St. Lawrence, St. William, Holy Family, St. Michael, St. Teresa, Blessed Sacrament, Resurrection, St. Vincent de Paul, St. Aloysius (Delhi), Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and Our Lady of Victory.
Seven and a half acres on Vincent Avenue (at Regina) were purchased from the Sisters of Charity for $10,000. Construction of the school building ($188,000) and fieldhouse ($22,000 and now known as the Donohoe Center) was funded by the sale of bonds in the parishes.
Elder High School opened as a four-year high school in the fall of 1922 with an enrollment of 452 students and became the fourth high school in the City of Cincinnati. A comprehensive school, Elder enrolls students ranging from the academically challenged to the gifted. The motto “Altiora” is Latin and translates “strive for the higher things.” The mascot (panther) and school colors (purple and white) were chosen by the students. Elder was coeducational for the first five years until Seton High School opened in the fall of 1927.
In the 1930’s students and faculty worked side-by-side to construct the first permanent stands in what was to become the stadium. Construction of The Pit was completed in 1947. The east wing and gymnasium were added in 1958, the north wing in 1963, Elder Memorial Fieldhouse in 1980, and the Schaeper Center in 2002. In 2008 the Butch Hubert Family Panther Athletic Complex located off Quebec Avenue less than one mile from this campus became operational.
Graduates have supported their alma mater and its students so faithfully over the years that “the spirit of Elder” is recognized as a truly unique component of Cincinnati’s legacy.
William Henry Elder
… was born March 22, 1819 in Baltimore, Maryland, the ninth of ten children of Basil and Elizabeth (Snowden) Elder. He attended Mt. St. Mary’s College in Emmitsburg, Maryland graduating in 1837. He then began his studies for the priesthood at Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary, also in Emmitsburg. Coincidentally the headmaster of the seminary was Rev. John Baptist Purcell whom Elder would later succeed as Archbishop of Cincinnati. In 1842 he was sent to Rome to earn a Doctorate of Divinity from the College of the Propaganda. Elder was ordained a priest in Rome on March 29, 1846, and then joined the faculty of his alma mater, Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary. On May 3, 1857 Elder was appointed Bishop of Natchez, Mississippi. At that time Elder was the youngest bishop in the United States.
During the Civil War, Bishop Elder heroically tended to the hungry, wounded, and deceased of both armies—the Confederacy and the Union. In 1864 Elder was imprisoned for refusing to comply with a Union order requesting “prayers be offered for the President of the United States and the success of the Union arms.” Following a written appeal from Elder directly to President Abraham Lincoln, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton issued the order for his release from Federal custody.
In 1878 Elder was asked to transfer to San Francisco; however he requested permission to remain in Natchez to minister to the victims of the yellow fever epidemic then ravaging Mississippi. His efforts to help those in need earned Elder the gratitude, respect and admiration of the entire region. In January, 1880 Pope Leo XIII appointed Bishop Elder as Coadjutor of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati to succeed Archbishop John Baptist Purcell.
Bishop Elder arrived in Cincinnati on Sunday, April 18, 1880. Purcell, now in ill health, retired to the convent of the Ursulines of Brown County, Ohio and Elder assumed the responsibilities of running the Archdiocese. Upon Purcell’s death in July, 1883, Elder was elevated to Archbishop of Cincinnati. Elder’s major focus during his tenure in Cincinnati was to reestablish a firm financial foundation for the archdiocese, to reopen the seminary, and to promote Catholic education within the parishes.
Archbishop Elder died on October 31, 1904, only four days after his last official appearance at a celebration of the Sisters of Charity at Cedar Grove Academy (currently Seton High School, neighboring this campus). At the time of his death Archbishop Elder was the oldest (both in age and tenure) bishop in the United States. Rev. Henry Moeller succeeded Elder as Archbishop of Cincinnati.
Archbishop William Henry Elder had a reputation for being an effective arbiter among the Catholic bishops of the United States, brokering major compromises on a variety of topics. Elder was recognized for his wisdom, faith, unfailing kindness and genuine holiness by the people he served, and by the Church of that era. He is buried in St. Joseph Cemetery off Rapid Run Pike in Price Hill less than two miles from this school.