Bishop Kelly History

History of Bishop Kelly High School & the Bishop Kelly Foundation

 Saint Teresa’s Academy was established in 1890 by the Sisters of the Holy Cross as a high school and boarding school for young women.  Later, St. Joseph’s School was built to offer Catholic education to the young men of the Boise City area, with an elementary school occupying the lower level and a high school on the upper floor. In 1933, the two high schools joined to form the co-ed St. Teresa’s Academy, which educated both Catholic and non-Catholic students until it closed in 1964.

As far back as the 1930’s, Bishop Edward Joseph Kelly, the third Bishop of the Diocese of Boise, had dreamed of establishing a Catholic high school under the direction of the Diocese of Boise.  Though he campaigned for his idea for nearly thirty years, he died in 1956 without it being realized.  Then in 1962 the Diocese was faced with a decision.  The Sisters of the Holy Cross determined that they could not to continue to operate Saint Teresa’s Academy.  The school would close in the spring of 1964, leaving a void in Catholic Education in the Treasure Valley.

BK History 1964-65

In light of the closure of St. Teresa’s, Idaho’s newest Bishop, Sylvester Treinen, authorized the building of a new Diocesan run high school.  Bishop Treinen named the school Bishop Kelly after his predecessor who had first conceived of the Idaho.  Ground was broken for “Kelly” on August 25, 1963, and the building was blessed on August 31, 1964 with classes beginning the next day.  There was some controversy about the location chosen BK.  Many believed that the modern school surrounded by farmland was too far from where most students lived.  But Bishop Treinen and his brother priests defended the location, saying that BK would soon be in the center of growth in the Valley.  Today we can see that they made a wise choice!

In 1965, a young Irish priest arrived at Bishop Kelly, “straight off the boat from Australia”, having never even heard of Boise. He was corrected by an airline employee when he rhymed Boise with “noise”.  Father James R. “Reg” Wilson began as a teacher; but soon took on more responsibility as the Dean of Students.  He was appointed principal of Bishop Kelly High School on April 22, 1971, effective July 1, 1971 and served for 12 years.

BK History Father WilsonFather Wilson

One month after he took over from Father Peplinski, Father Wilson received a letter from Bishop Treinen informing him that he had appointed an ad hoc committee, chaired by Monsignor Nicholas Hughes, rector of St. John’s Cathedral, to determine whether or not the school would continue to operate.  Father Wilson phoned the Bishop to state his position on the matter; “Over my dead body,” he said.

The initial meeting of the committee was held on October 23, 1971.  Father Wilson asked Monsignor Hughes, his good friend and fellow Irishman, if he could take the floor first before anyone could begin any discussion.  Monsignor Hughes agreed and called on Father Wilson, who stood and proclaimed, “We are not here to determine whether or not the school will close, but rather to devise ways to make it even bigger and better in the future”.  Following applause from many of those present, Monsignor Hughes set the tone for the rest of the meeting by announcing, “We have gathered here, not to preside at a funeral; but rather to witness a resurrection.”

The turmoil that had arisen at Bishop Kelly was partly a result of declining enrollments, but also due to the uncertainty of financial resources.  Bishop Treinen had informed Father Wilson that the Diocese would no longer be able to commit diocesan funds after the 1975-76 school year and that the parishes would have to assume more responsibility for the school’s operational expenses.  The school needed to find a way to survive with tuition revenue and the subsidies from the parishes.

By 1972, many families were struggling to meet the demands of educating their children at Bishop Kelly; and enrollment was not increasing at the hoped-for rate.  Three Boise businessmen, who were friends of Father Wilson, proposed a campaign to raise money for scholarships.  Jack Kennevick, Lyle Cobbs, and J. Kirk Sullivan co-chaired the first community-wide fundraising drive on behalf of Bishop Kelly, asking local businesses and foundations for a donation of $250, the cost of tuition for one student.  The Boise community responded generously, with $19,000 raised the first year, $28,000 the second year, and $37,000 the third year.

Enrollment continued to decrease in response to rumors that the school would be closing its doors.  In the local newspaper, the Superintendent of the Boise Independent School District was quoted as having reported to his school board that Bishop Kelly High School was for sale.  Father Wilson asked a student to put up a message on BK’s marquee in full view of Franklin Road that said, “This Property Not for Sale”.  A story about that message appeared that evening on the local television news programs and the next morning in The Idaho Statesman.  Bishop Kelly could not have purchased more wonderful publicity for the school.

In 1975, Father Wilson began to look at other successful Catholic high schools, particularly those thriving in the East. He tried to pinpoint the reason why they were doing so well when Bishop Kelly was struggling.  The difference was a viable endowment administered by a foundation.  He also had compiled statistics to show that Bishop Kelly’s tuition was much lower than that of other Catholic schools in the Northwest, yet the school was unable to bring up enrollment figures.  Father reasoned that if they could establish a foundation and perhaps come up with a successful fundraiser along the lines of FUNDSY, a community auction which had been quite lucrative in Boise, the school could keep tuition low and still not have to worry about closing its doors.

Thirteen prominent Boiseans, seven Catholics and six non-Catholics, were invited to dinner at Hillcrest Country Club, hosted by W. Larry Mills, to discuss the state of affairs at Bishop Kelly.  After listening to Father Wilson’s vision, Sam Kaufman, a respected local attorney, summarized the situation when he said, “It seems to me that we have two needs here – one immediate and one long range.  We must address the immediate needs of the school to make sure it does not close, and we have to find a way to ensure its long term security”.  This was exactly what Father had in mind, and the other thirteen people assembled there enthusiastically agreed.  Thus, the Bishop Kelly Foundation was born.  The founders and charter members were:

  • James E. Bruce, Jr.
  • William R. Chandler
  • Lyle R. Cobbs
  • Anton E. Dropping
  • Samuel Kaufman, Jr.
  • Jack Kennevick
  • Richard E. Larson
  • John W. Leonard
  • Glenn A. Lungren
  • W. Larry Mills
  • Joseph A. Moore
  • J. Kirk Sullivan
  • George P. Wolter, Jr.
  • Reverend James R. Wilson

Once the Bishop Kelly Foundation had been incorporated in 1976, attention turned to developing a fundraiser that could generate funds for the short term and also to establish an endowment for the school’s future security.

In 1977, the first dinner/auction was held at the Downtowner Motel in Boise.  It raised $56,000.  Bishop Treinen was amazed.  After two successful auctions, Foundation Board member, Glenn Lungren, returned from a trip to California with an idea to distinguish the Bishop Kelly Foundation’s auction from all others.  He introduced the “reverse car drawing” concept in which all auction attendees’ names are placed in a hopper and systematically drawn out one by one until the last person remaining wins a new car.  It was an instant success and has remained the unique trademark of the Bishop Kelly auction to this day.

When it became apparent that the Bishop Kelly Foundation was becoming a driving force behind the success of Bishop Kelly High School, many people began to inquire about how they could get on the Board.  The by-laws were changed to expand the number of Board members.  However, one aspect of the way the Foundation was set up never would change.

Sam Kaufman set up the Foundation in such a way that its principal would be protected.  Over the years, attempts were made to incorporate the Foundation’s endowment into the Diocese of Boise; but the Articles of Incorporation of the Bishop Kelly Foundation made it impossible to do so.  They were written in such a way that should Bishop Kelly High School ever cease to exist, any funds held by the Foundation would go to Catholic education – first in Boise, then in Idaho, and finally in the Northwest.  Provisions were also made to keep the corpus intact, using only the earnings from the endowment except in extreme circumstances.

Even after he completed his term as principal, Father Reg Wilson continued to be involved with the Bishop Kelly Foundation while serving as a parish priest in Sun Valley and Lewiston.  He was named an Honorary Lifetime Member of the Foundation Board for his singular role in establishing the organization.  In 2000, he returned to Bishop Kelly High School as its spiritual director.  In addition to being elected chairman of the Board of Directors – the board comprised of the pastors of the supporting parishes – Father Wilson once again returned to the Bishop Kelly Foundation Board.

In July of 2002, he articulated his dream for the future of Bishop Kelly High School and the Foundation.  “I want to see Bishop Kelly grow and thrive while still keeping tuition at an affordable level, so that any student who wants to attend BK will be able to do so.  With the Foundation’s help, I would like to see the school be financially secure enough so that we need never worry about closing our doors.  Then I would like to see us be able to help the local Catholic grade schools instead of the parishes having to subsidize Bishop Kelly.  I think it would greatly increase the support for this school.”

BK History 1957-87

In 1960 there were five million students attending Catholic schools in the U.S.  By 2000 that number had been cut in half.  Since the millennium the erosion of the Catholic school system nationwide has continued, and today there are just 2.1 million students in Catholic school.  More than 400 Catholic High Schools have closed in the last decade, despite being outstanding schools in their markets.

Most high schools, private or public, would celebrate having achieved just one of Bishop Kelly’s accomplishments.  How did we do it?  With several strategic changes to the way we run Idaho’s only Catholic high school, and maybe just a little bit of divine intervention.


So what’s changed at BK over the years?  Plenty…

If you were a student in the 60’s and 70’s you probably remember uniforms, a faculty made up of mostly Clergy, a shiny new building, and farmers fields all around campus.  In the 80’s the uniforms were gone, there were fewer sisters teaching, everyone took typing and home economics, and the new Boise Towne Square Mall became BK’s neighbor.  In the 90’s things really began to change.  Typewriters were replaced by computers. Our enrollment surged to 700+ students, and much needed expansion and renovation of the main building began.

In the last 15 years several key gifts to the school have shaped the Bishop Kelly you see today.  A gift from Mike and Anna Simunich in 1998 doubled the size of our campus from 30 to 60 acres, and gave BK the opportunity to realize $1.5 million from the sale of excess land.  From that, a half million dollars were invested in classroom renovations and $1 million remains in a maintenance endowment that spins off revenue annually for infrastructure investment.  Campus wide wireless capability, technology in the classrooms, and energy efficiencies throughout our facility are just a few of the investments made possible because of this gift and the resulting endowments.

A $1.2 million estate gift to Bishop Kelly Athletics from Mr. Harry Daum has generated countless investments in our sports complex infrastructure.  A half million dollars from that gift remain in an athletic endowment that generates monies dedicated for reinvestment in our student athletes.  In a school where more than half of the student body participates in athletics, it is a blessing to be able to provide equipment and training facilities that help to keep our athletes healthy and performing to the best of their abilities.

One such facility is our gymnasium, the Carley Center.  The Carley opened in 2000, giving us the space necessary to support our growing athletic programs.  This state of the art complex is used not only by sports teams and PE classes, but also serves as our church for all school Mass, the gathering place for student assemblies and dances, and hosts the members of our community regularly for events like the Idaho Catholic Youth Convention.   At BK we know that great facilities don’t necessarily make great athletes.  But it’s worth noting that more than half of the State Championships won by the Knights were won after the Carley Center’s opening.

In 2006 Bishop Kelly ran the largest and most successful capital campaign in its history, raising $8.6 million dollars.  Half of the campaign proceeds went to infrastructure renovation and half went to increase the Bishop Kelly Foundation endowment from $3.2 million to $7 million.  The Foundation grants more than $600k generated by the endowment and Winner’s Choice Auction to Bishop Kelly each school year.  These monies make up 15% of our operating budget and are a critical part of our long term financial stability.  This annual grant from the Foundation helps keep tuition significantly below the actual cost to educate each student at Bishop Kelly.  Additionally, the Foundation provides need based financial assistance to more than 25% of the families that attend BK.

Via the capital campaign and several other initiatives, we have invested more than $8 million in renovating and expanding our facility.  Depending on when you last visited campus, some or all of these improvements might be new to you:

    • Bishop Kelly’s new entrance showcases our Catholic Identity with two beautiful pieces of art – “Beginning the Journey” and original bronze sculpture depicting Jesus and John the Baptist in the Jordan River, and a multicolored cross made of fused glass.
    • The administrative and student services wing was completely renovated in 2012, giving us better and more efficient space with which to serve our community.
    • All of BK’s original classrooms have been renovated, and three new classroom wings added.
    • The Father Fraser Library was renovated and expanded in 2014.  The facility is the hub of the school and helps us to develop the skills and competencies needed for success in the 21st century.
    • An ”extreme makeover” has been completed in the Biology and Chemistry labs.
    • The art classroom has been expanded into a modern art complex.
    • Our campus is completely wireless, and every student at Bishop Kelly uses a laptop or tablet PC throughout their school day.
    • Students and teachers use the Blackboard online course management system.
    • The newly refurbished Performance Training Center in the Carley Center is helping to keep BK students, faculty, and staff healthy and strong.
    • Eight new post tensioned tennis courts are in use by our community on the east end of campus.
    • The Nick Ysursa Football Stadium was upgraded with stadium lights and new bleachers that seat 2100 fans.
    • Our baseball field is one of the very best in the state. The complex includes an indoor batting cage, upgraded concessions, and a clubhouse for the team and coaches.
    • The front parking lot was upgraded to improve traffic flow and mitigate water on campus, and new parking has been added behind the main building and to the east of the Carley Center.
    • Our irrigation system has been upgraded to reduce the costs associated with care and upkeep of the expanded campus.
    • A through street was put in to connect the parking lots to Alumbaugh street to the East, allowing students to exit campus at a lighted intersection during heavy traffic times
    • With the help of our hardworking students BK added two community gardens, one to supply local food banks with produce and one that is farmed by neighborhood refugee families

Capital improvements aren’t the only things that have changed at BK.  Bishop Kelly has added several academic programs including an impressive list of AP classes, expanded science and engineering offerings, horticulture, music and theater arts, and strength and conditioning classes to name a few.  By every metric of success Bishop Kelly is a leader in academic achievement in the State of Idaho.

In 2004 BK streamlined both the schools governance and administration with the adaption of the President-Principal model and by combining our two governing boards into one.  Our Board of Governance has the authority to steer the strategic leadership of the institution. The President-Principal model split the duties of school leadership.  The Principal runs the day to day operations of the school and reports to the President who runs the business side of the institution. These changes gave us the ability to focus talented leadership in an agile and functional structure.

BK History 1991-2009

In 2005 BK’s leadership team developed a strategic planning initiative that resulted in an ambitious five year vision for Bishop Kelly.  By 2010, so much progress had been achieved that BK developed a second strategic plan for 2010 to 2015.  We are completing that strategic plan with impressive results in improving academics, athletics and activities, our Catholic identity, community relationships and more.  With broad input from the entire Bishop Kelly family and beyond, we are now preparing to begin Bishop Kelly’s third five-year strategic plan, BK 2020 Vision.

Vision 2020 focuses on the managed growth of programs and infrastructure at Bishop Kelly.  Some of the questions that Vision 2020 addresses include:

  • How will Bishop Kelly accommodate growing enrollment, both in terms of infrastructure, staff, and the ability to support students who have financial need?
  • How will Bishop Kelly develop in our students the skills and competencies needed for success in the 21st century – critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, and communication?
  • What can Bishop Kelly do to strengthen key programs; such as performing and visual arts, athletics, and STEM?

Given BK’s enrollment growth of more than 20% over the last four years, Vision 2020 prepares BK to grow to a student population of 1,000.  The plan allows for upgrades to our physical campus, the strengthening of our academic and athletic programs, and puts BK in the financial position to maintain accessibility for all families who wish to send their children to BK, and serve each of our students well. This bold new vision will allow Bishop Kelly to continue to be a premiere high school in Idaho and the Northwest.