Joe Hollowell was born August 23rd, 1954 to James “Mojo” Hollowell and his wife Jeanette. The oldest of three children, he spent his childhood growing up in Henderson, Kentucky, where my grandfather was the head football coach for decades. My Dad was the water-boy and, like my brothers and I 30 years later, grew up around a high school football program as a coach’s son.
My Grandfather eventually took a job in Indianapolis as the head coach of John Marshall High School, and my Dad went to high school at Scecina. My Dad doesn’t talk about himself unless he has to, but the stories we’ve been able to coax out of him, my mom, and their friends revealed that he was 155 pounds but he played on the offensive line and was described by an anonymous source as the toughest player, pound for pound, that had gone through Scecina.
He went on to Butler and studied Chemistry. By all accounts he was a chemistry genius, getting some kind of scholarship to go study at the University of Colorado for free. While there, he was bit by the hiking bug, and stopped taking classes and flunked out because he was always climbing the flatirons or out hiking. He had to come back to Butler, but a love for the outdoors was born there.
My Dad took a job at Roncalli High School as a chemistry teacher and football coach. One of the few things my Dad has revealed to us about himself – he felt like he probably should have been fired after his first year of teaching because he felt he wasn’t any good. But the principal worked with him, and he became a wonderful teacher and a very successful football coach at the same time. Some that he coached with have told me they’ve never seen a better football coach. I remember as a boy hearing some of his pregame talks that he’d give the team, and I was so fired up I was ready to run through a wall!
My parents were raised Catholic, and raised all of us kids Catholic as well. There was about a year, when I was really young, where we stepped away from the Catholic Church and went to a non-denominational church. I barely remember it, but looking back, when we came home to the Catholic Church, I can now see a steady increase in the strength of my Dad’s Catholic Faith from that point on.
My Dad became the dean of students at Roncalli High School and, after a few years of that role, the principal position came open at Roncalli. He was already working on his administrators’ license, and the board took a chance on him, and, it is safe to say, they made the right choice.
In those early years of my Dad being the principal of Roncalli, there was no development office, no fundraising office, no high school president, and so my Dad learned everything he could about fundraising, and then he took on that role in addition to his principal’s job. Roncalli High School had really not received anything other than maintenance work to its campus, and my Dad saw the need to fix the situation. He did a lot of the fundraising work for the school after hours and at home, and most of the Hollowell kids have “fond” memories of working on school mailings out to alumni and parents and everyone else.
In 1993, they commissioned a campus master plan. “What do we want Roncalli High School to look like in 30 years?” was the question they asked, and they put it all together with architects and meetings, and I’ll never forget the first time I saw the painting of what my Dad hoped the campus would look like in 30 years.
Pretty soon after that, Roncalli High School decided they needed to hire a president who could focus more on fundraising and administration, and my Dad was selected to do that job.
I have never seen someone throw themselves into something so completely as my Dad has to his job as President of Roncalli, while at the same time sacrificing himself for us as his kids as well. Growing up as a Hollowell any of us would have answered “yes” in a heartbeat to the question “does your Dad love you?”
Roncalli’s campus and the school exploded under my Dad’s leadership as President. Capital campaign followed by building project followed by the next campaign followed by the next building project. But it wasn’t just the buildings. Test scores continue to climb. Athletic programs continue to thrive. The spiritual life of the school continues to grow as well. In 35 years of a program he started called "Summer Field Studies" he has brought some 5,000 students and faculty and community members out to the mountains of Colorado for a two week experience each summer that has sparked major spiritual conversions in the lives of almost everyone who has been a part of the program. It now has daily adoration, daily Mass, spiritual reflections by staff and students, morning and evening prayer, etc. He works on this program year round AFTER his 70 or so hours he gives to his President's job every week.
Somewhere along the way during one of the campaigns Roncalli hired a Catholic school consulting firm to come in and assist. They were so impressed, they hired my Dad. He now has it built into his contract that he gets to travel three weeks a year with Catholic School Management going in and helping other Catholic schools work through whatever struggles they might be having.
At one point, at the behest of the board at Roncalli, they did a salary study to look at my Dad’s pay. The study found that someone doing his amount of work, overseeing the number of people that he oversees at the success rate that he has would earn $350,000 in the corporate world.
I was struggling as a priest last year, and I sat down with my Dad and asked him how he got through those moments where he had 7 or 8 young children and had some huge issues blowing up at school – I asked for some advice on why he didn't walk away. My Dad shared with me that he asked, when he was praying, right before the principal job opened up at Roncalli, for “something I could throw myself into. My whole self. Something I could do to give everything I had so that I could both support my family and make a difference. And about a week later, the principal job opened up.”
He has done exactly that for the better part of 40 years. He has given everything he has, even at the expense of himself. He has suffered health issues because of the tireless 80 hour work weeks. In 2010 he suffered a mild stroke that slowed him down for about a year, but he’s been right back at it, giving everything he has to Roncalli, his family, and now, most enjoyably, to his grandchildren.
He earned his doctorate in Catholic leadership two years ago, and what the future holds for him, exactly, I don’t know. But I do know that it has been amazing to see what he has done as a father, what he has done as a grandfather, and what he has done at Roncalli.