It Began With a Dream
St. Dominic High School, the oldest co-educational Catholic high school on Long Island, began with a dream. Msgr. Charles Canivan, the founding pastor of the high school, would later share that dream with its students:
In the year 1921 I had a wonderful dream which I recorded in writing. With your kind permission I will now relate it to you: Our Blessed Lady appeared to me as I slept, a heavenly smile on her beautiful countenance. In her graceful hands she carried a scroll on which was written in letters of gold the following words: “God wills that you build a religious school.” And then she spoke, and her heavenly tones were worried. She said that education without religion is incomplete and her solution was a parochial school. “Let it be a school where science and culture and religion are taught for the glory of God and the advancement of mankind,” she said. Then, still smiling, she raised her hand in blessing and disappeared.
Shortly thereafter, Fr Canivan shared his dream with his parishioners, and they ardently began raising the funds needed to establish a parish elementary school. It wasn't long before the necessary funds were secured, and the property to the south of the church and rectory was purchased as a site for the new school. Finally, on August 15, 1922, ground was broken for a large school building.
Even before construction had started on the new school, Msgr. Canivan had decided that he wanted the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, whose motherhouse was located in his native Scranton, Pennsylvania, to take charge of it. Writing to the superior of the order in 1922, he said,
The first thing that came to my mind in considering the organization of the school was, what order of Sisters should be placed in charge of it. Being a native of the Scranton Diocese and knowing so many of its priests, I have heard many excellent reports of the work of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart in the schools, and decided long ago that when the time came for beginning a school here, that I would have the Sisters of that order take charge of it, if it could possibly be arranged.
The sisters were amenable to his request and the bishop of Scranton would soon give his permission for the order to send some of its members to Oyster Bay. The new school building was completed in time for the 1924 school year, and eight sisters, led by Sister Benedicta O'Brien, who would serve as the first principal, came that same year to teach at the new school. Classes began on September 8, 1924, with 340 pupils in six grades, and a seventh and eighth grade would be added over the next two years. In June of 1928, the first graduation from St. Dominic Elementary School saw thirty-nine pupils receive diplomas.
This first school building remains in use today and is known today as Canivan Hall in honor of the school's founder.
A New Building
To meet the needs of the growing school population, and with an eye for future expansion, Fr. Canivan soon purchased the property on the east side of Anstice Street across from the first school building, and this was first used as a playground and recreational area for the schools. By 1940, however, the elementary and high schools were outgrowing the shared building which only a decade ago seemed more than ample for their needs, and it was evident that the high school now needed a building of its own. Plans were soon in place to construct a new building on that site to house the high school, and a capital campaign was initiated for that purpose. The parish responded enthusiastically, and as a memorial to their mother, Helena Woolworth McCann, the McCann family of Oyster Bay matched dollar for dollar the funds raised by the parish. With the necessary funds quickly acquired, construction on the new building began on April 25, 1941 and was completed in time for the opening of school in 1941. The new building housed ten classrooms, a library, administrative offices and a science lab. In the basement was a recreation room that doubled as a 500-person seating capacity auditorium and even a bowling alley!
In 2000, this building was named Marian Hall in honor of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters who had served the schools of St. Dominic for 75 years.
Over the next few decades, the high school flourished, and by 1956, over 600 eighth graders would take the school's entrance exam, hoping to be one of about 150 that the school would accept into its freshman class. Since the growth of the student body necessitated additional instructional space, six additional classrooms were added on the lower floor of the high school building in the space that had been occupied by the recreation room and bowling alley.
By the second half of the 1960's it was apparent that, given the growth of the two schools, a new location for the elementary school would be needed in order to allow the high school full use of the original school building. Anticipating future expansion, the parish had previously purchased the former Oyster Bay high school site on the southwest corner of Weeks and Anstice streets, and it was there on September 15, 1968, that ground was broken for a new church and elementary school. With the new elementary school completed by 1970, its move to the new facility allowed for smaller class sizes and improvements to the high school's educational program.
The Sports Center
From the opening of the schools, the space in Canivan Hall that housed the auditorium doubled as a gymnasium, and the new elementary school building lacked a gymnasium, Thus, as the 1970's progressed it became apparent that a separate sports facility would be a desirable addition to the campus. A capital campaign was eventually established by the pastor, Fr. James Collins, with the goal of building a sports facility for the use of the parish and schools, and in 1978, the new sports center was completed. The new facility vastly improved the athletic program of the high school and served to attract even more students. In 1987 it was designated as the Msgr. James E. Collins Sports Center in memory of the pastor responsible for its construction.
Other improvements and additions to the campus would follow in the coming years. In 1996, Charles Dolan and Charles Wang of Oyster Bay provided the resources to create a campus-wide computer network and install two state-of-the-art computer labs. The following year, the all-purpose auditorium in Canivan Hall was completely renovated and converted into an air conditioned theater since that space was no longer needed for use as a gymnasium. What had been two classrooms opposite the auditorium were also converted into office suites for the principal and guidance department.
A Field of Dreams
As the high school grew, one disadvantage it had to contend with was the lack of facilities for outdoor sports. For many years, the school was forced to use public facilities since there was no space available for athletic fields at the Oyster Bay campus. In 2000 through the generosity of Charles Wang, property was acquired on Northern Boulevard in Muttontown and athletic facilities including tennis courts and baseball, softball, soccer and lacrosse fields were constructed on the site. To honor him, the facility was named the Charles B. Wang campus.
A New Century and the End of an Era
In 1999, the Immaculate Heart of Mary sisters were recognized for 75 years to the schools of St Dominic, and in 2003, their service to the high school came to an end with the retirement of Sr. Jane Francis Dunnigan, IHM. It was with gratitude their many years of selfless service to the high school were remembered by the high school community and alumni.
By the second decade of the 21st Century, St Dominic had recognized the need to make more modern science facilities available to its students. At that time, the former convent to the north of Canivan Hall was vacant and in need of renovation. In 2012, through the generosity of the Dolan family, it was renovated and converted into a modern science center, with labs for the high school sciences and a general science lab for the elementary school. The addition of the Science Center made it possible to introduce a new STEM program and additional science offerings to the school's curriculum.
Along with the addition of the Science Center, the school's computer network was also significantly upgraded in order to make state-of the-art technology available to the new science building and to support increased use of technology throughout the school.
In recent years, St Dominic High School has enhanced its educational program by increasing its AP course offerings as well as by partnering with local colleges to allow students the opportunity to earn college credits in their junior and senior years. Additionally, Juniors in our STEM program have the opportunity to work on a research project in conjunction with Cold Spring Harbor Lab's DNA Learning Center which is only minutes from the school. A shuttle to and from the train station at Syosset was also introduced, allowing students who resided too far east and west of the school to receive transportation from their districts the ability to take the Long Island Rail Road to and from school.
What William F. Shore III, a graduate of the Class of 1973, wrote some time ago will always remain true:
Apart from St. Dominic's physical plant, accomplished athletic program and distinguished academic achievement, St. Dominic's will always be remembered by its graduates as a place of love in their hearts. St. Dominic's is imbued with a spirit and dynamism which exists to this day, and we hope for long into the future.
As we move toward our second century, St Dominic High School also continues to be guided by Msgr. Canivan's vision of a school in which "science and culture and religion are taught for the glory of God and the advancement of mankind."