SINCE 1885

St. Mary's High School building in 1920

As the adolescent City of Colorado Springs, Colorado took shape and grew in the early 1880s, the area’s only Catholic priest had a vision. Father Robert Byrne recognized that Colorado Springs was a superior location for a Catholic academy to serve the needs of the many families moving into the area. He approached Bishop Nicholas Matz and the Diocese of Denver with his vision but was met with disfavor. Father Byrne persisted until the Bishop agreed to allow the Sisters of Loretto to come to Colorado Springs. Three sisters arrived in the summer of 1885 and opened Loretto Academy at 425 North Tejon on the first Monday in September. Nine female students were the first to enroll.

In the fall of 1886 as enrollment grew, the academy moved to a larger house at 106 North Tejon, but it was clear that a school building would be needed. In 1886, the sisters acquired property on Sierra Madre, between Kiowa and Bijou and began planning their building. Loretto Academy’s four-story building opened for school in September 1888 and the school began accepting boys under the age of 12. The fourth floor became the sisters’ residence. In 1897, St. Mary’s Catholic Parish completed its new cathedral next door to Loretto Academy after more than a decade of planning.

By 1901, enrollment at Loretto Academy had grown to the point that more space was again needed. The Sierra Madre building had been constructed to allow for additions, and in 1902 two new wings opened as the area’s first true parochial school. Given the changes in the school, the name also changed from Loretto Academy to St. Mary’s School. That fall there were 250 boys and girls enrolled from first grade through high school, although the high school remained for girls only. In 1904, St. Mary’s School graduated its first class comprised of two students. St. Mary’s Parish purchased St. Mary’s School in 1912, and retained the sisters as teachers at a salary of $25 each per month.

black and white photo of the football team from decades ago


For the next four decades, St. Mary’s School was a thriving presence in both the parish and the city of Colorado Springs. School spirit grew and traditions took hold. Superintendent Monsignor William Kelly’s annual operettas were performed at the Fine Arts Center to standing room only audiences. Sports teams flourished and state champion banners graced the wall of the Knights of Columbus gym on Kiowa. Many families saw second generations attend and graduate from the school.

St. Mary's High School  15 N Sierra Madre Colorado Springs CO 80903


In 1950, a new grade school was built on the southeast corner of Sierra Madre and Kiowa; Old Green (as the original building built by the Sisters of Loretto was called) became the high school; and a gym was built on the southeast corner of Sierra Madre and Bijou. However, by the end of the decade, a shift in demographics caused the school to phase out the elementary grades to accommodate the large number of students in the high school classes. The high school grew and prospered, and by the end of the 1960s, the need for a new building was evident. Funds were raised and the Catholic Education Center was built on the property adjacent to the original grade school. The new high school was occupied on February 2, 1972, and Old Green was razed.

St. Mary's High School 2 nuns in a classroom 1900s


Although there were changes in appearance and location, the one item that remained constant from the very beginning was the uncompromising devotion and commitment to Catholic education exhibited by the Sisters of Loretto. But this one true constant would eventually be influenced by changes in the sisterhood. By the mid 1970s, St. Mary’s High School (SMHS) began to experience what became a national trend: a shortage of priests and sisters. Consequently, the administration and faculty shifted toward a predominately lay orientation. Although there were fewer nuns, their legacy of compassion and dedication continued to flourish as a new group of educators sought to preserve nearly a century’s worth of good works and success.

St. Mary's High School Committee for Catholic Secondary Education pic 1987


In 1983, Pope John Paul II created the Diocese of Colorado Springs from territory separated from the Archdiocese of Denver and the Diocese of Pueblo. In the mid-1980s, the school’s mounting debt could no longer be ignored as the fledgling Diocese of Colorado Springs struggled to meet the many and varied needs of a rapidly growing diocese that spanned several counties. On February 11, 1987, with great reluctance, the Diocese of Colorado Springs announced the closure of St. Mary’s High School. However, this was not to be the end of SMHS. The Committee for Catholic Secondary Education in Colorado Springs was created by charter members Patricia & William Ciccone MD, Bernadette & Jack Johnston, Carol & John O'Donnell, Kathy & Mark O'Donnell, Anna & Walter Paul, and Marcella & Leo Smentowski. All were either school parents and/or alumni of SMHS. After months of discussions and deliberations with the Diocese, St. Mary's High School reopened its doors on August 24, 1987, as an independent, private Catholic high school under the direction of a Board of Directors.

St. Mary's High School 2501 E Yampa St Colorado Springs CO 80909


In 1991, the downtown site became unsuitable and the school’s Board of Directors began a search for a new site. The Rocky Mountain Rehabilitation facility at 2501 East Yampa Street was acquired and the school moved to its current location on August 23, 1992. This site has proven to be a wise investment. Enrollment has increased over the years and the campus has improved with the additions of a chapel, classrooms, the Pirate Cove/cafeteria, stage, gymnasium, art and photography labs, and fitness center. In 2006, SMHS celebrated a century-old dream come true with the opening of The Grace Center for Athletics and Community Service, a 25-acre state-of-the-art athletic complex. Serving as the home fields for the Pirates, The Grace Center accommodates the football, soccer, lacrosse, baseball, and track and field teams.


With continuous operation since 1885, the future of St. Mary’s High School is very bright. As we reflect on the vision that came to the parish priest in a young western town so many decades ago, we pause and say “thank you.”