“Mr. Roncalli” Bob Tully
A Blessing at Roncalli High School for the Past 55 Years
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Bob Tully never planned a career in education. His dream, back when he was studying criminology at Indiana University in the early 1960s, was to become a state trooper. That dream was dashed, however, when he didn’t meet the height requirement. But while still at IU, Jim MacGregor, Tully’s former high football coach from Providence High School, asked him if he’d ever considered teaching high school. Even though he hadn’t, he was intrigued at the prospect.
In the early ‘60s, the Catholic faith was growing at a rapid rate on the south side of Indianapolis. Since no Catholic high school existed nearby, in 1961 the community banded together to erect Bishop Chartrand High School, the first Catholic co-educational high school in the city. And they were looking for teachers.
The new school opened its doors to a freshman class in 1962. Tully, who was finishing up his degree at IU, split his time between the Bloomington campus and the Indianapolis IU extension. He fit in work around his studies, spending his afternoons coaching at the new high school and his evenings mopping its floors and cleaning its bathrooms. As the school taught only freshman the first year, Tully lived in the vacant second floor, acting as nighttime security guard. On a few occasions, he glimpsed the life of the state trooper he had once aspired to be.
He began teaching driver’s education in 1963 and went on to teach several subjects, including religion, algebra, and social studies.
In 1969, Chartrand merged with Sacred Heart High School to form Roncalli High School. Right from the start, Tully knew he had found his true calling.
“I loved what I was doing. I loved the place I was doing it. And I loved the south side of Indy,” says Tully. “It was all just a giant love affair.”
Through the years, Tully has coached many sports, though his favorite is football. He acted as assistant coach for 46 years until his heart doctor advised him to stop due to Indiana’s intense August heat. During his tenure as assistant football coach, the school won nine state championships.
“I tell everybody that I took the boys to the state championships. And I did,” says Tully with a grin. “I literally took them there, because I drove the bus.”
Tully, who has been married for 50 years to Mary Pat, stopped teaching in 2007 when he transitioned into the role of Vice President for Mission and Ministry. Despite not being front and center in the classroom, he still connects daily with the students. Haley Vandagrifft, who graduated in May 2016, is one of his many fans.
“Bob Tully is like the heart of Roncalli,” she says. “He always has something insanely hilarious, heartwarming, and faith-inspiring to say.”
Now that he’s been in the building for 55 years, Tully, also known as “Mr. Roncalli” due to his longevity at the school, has witnessed the matriculation of his former students’ sons, daughters, grandsons, and granddaughters.
Though he’s in his sixth decade working in education, Tully says it hasn’t felt like a lifetime of labor. Perhaps it’s because he followed his dad’s advice, who used to tell him, “Find a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”
“I feel like I retired 54 years ago because I love what I do,” says Tully.
It’s safe to say that he’s not lamenting his squashed dream of having never donned that state trooper uniform.
“It’s just as well,” he admits. “Frankly, I think I mostly just liked the hat.”
For more information about Roncalli High School, visit the school’s website at www.roncalli.org/.
About the author: Christy Heitger-Ewing is an award-winning Avon-based writer and columnist who writes human interest stories for national, regional, and local magazines. She is also the author of the book “Cabin Glory: Amusing Tales of Time Spent at the Family Retreat” (www.cabinglory.com).