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Why the names “Roncalli” and “Rebels”?

In 1969 the Archdiocese of Indianapolis made the decision to consolidate Kennedy Memorial High School (formerly Sacred Heart High School) and Bishop Chartrand High School. The Office of Catholic Education formed a committee comprised of students from both schools with the charge of proposing a name for the new school. Many potential names were brought forth, but it was the little known name of Roncalli that garnered the most enthusiasm and was decided upon. This name, “Roncalli,” was the family name of Pope John XXIII of Vatican II fame (Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli).

John XXIII during his reign as pope, as well as during his time as Patriarch of Venice, Apostolic Nuncio to France and Apostolic Delegate to Turkey, Greece and Bulgaria, was referred to by some in the church as a rebel. Those familiar with this time in church history might recall the rebellion going on within the Catholic Church. A similar sense of rebellion also was unfolding on the Southside of Indianapolis as the consolidation of two very spirited Catholic high schools continued to unfold. This highly energized process, which included difficult, divisive issues such as the naming of administrators, teachers, coaches, band directors, etc., seemed to naturally generate a large number of rebels (students, teachers, parents, alumni) from both school communities.

When the issue of a nickname or mascot was discussed and the name rebels was brought forward the students enthusiastically embraced it and thus was born the name and nickname of this new Catholic high school, the Roncalli Rebels. Participants in those discussions have confirmed unequivocally through the years that at no time was the segregationist past or Confederate legacy mentioned in the discussion of the nickname, Rebels.

At some point in the school’s history there started to appear as a part of the school’s landscape, a mascot, Ronnie Rebel, who was dressed in a Confederate military uniform. Shortly thereafter, the confederate flag also started to appear in different school settings. This was terribly unfortunate as both the mascot and flag misrepresented the school and the historical significance of its name and nickname.

In the early 1990’s, the school’s administration began to address the issue on two fronts; one being the absolute exclusion of the confederate soldier and confederate flag from anything related to Roncalli; the second being a concerted effort to educate the school and larger community on the historical significance of the name, Roncalli Rebels.

Angelo Cardinal Roncalli, now known to the world as St. John XXIII, was revered as the “people’s pope.” History has shown him to be one of the most beloved people in the world during the 20th century and the most ecumenical pope in modern times. Our school could not be prouder to carry his name. In 2009 members of the school’s campus ministry team spent a considerable amount of time reading, studying and discussing the life of St. John XXIII. One result of their work was the identification of nine charisms they felt embodied the life, legacy and spirit of this wonderful man. Those charisms now hang in the halls of the school and are infused into many different aspects of the school’s mission. The charisms are as follows: Welcoming, Simple, Kind, Peaceful, Humble, Humorous, Servant, Holy and Inspired Change.

Roncalli Rebels are not just a team, a fine arts ensemble, a graduating class or even a school. Roncalli Rebels are a family! While the start of that family in 1969 was challenging with the consolidation, Roncalli High School has grown to be a vibrant, loving, faith-filled and service oriented family that proudly serves the South Deanery of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

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