By Francis Boeck and Emmanuel Rodriguez
When he looks back at it, Tom Coppola’s decision of what to do for high school didn’t have much to do with where he wanted to go.
It was about who he wanted to be.
In the summer between his seventh and eighth grade year, Coppola attended Canisius High School’s Higher Achievement Program and quickly become enamored with the teachers of the program, realizing he wanted to be just like them.
“It was immediate that I felt connected to the place, I felt like this was beyond just a school but a community that I wanted to be part of,” Coppola said. “All of the teachers were alums and they were all guys who I wanted to become. They went to cool colleges and projected to do these great things in the world and then they were just gentlemen. It gave me an idea of that’s what I wanted to be.”
Coppola, ’01, later returned as a teacher and is now the Dean of Students at Canisius.
He has also been running the summer program for the past eight years as well, introducing that same culture to middle school boys.
It’s a cycle that has been going on for the past 150 years, since the Jesuits started Canisius on Ellicott Street back in 1870. It ash been at its current location at 1180 Delaware Ave. since the 1940s.
Jay Josker, ’01, director of alumni relations, and Ken Liszewski, ’10, director of annual giving, reflect on the success of Canisius High School the past 150 years:
“It’s pretty cool,” said senior Daniel Sippel, a fourth-generation student at Canisius and high-ranking member of the school’s student government. “It’s understandable to see how this school has made it this far.”
As a Jesuit school, Canisius works to create men who are “for and with others,” according to Coppola and Sippel. Canisius students are required to perform 100 hours of community service, locally and internationally, travelling to Nicaragua annually.
Service is as important as academics, spirituality and athletics in helping to form the mind, body and soul of each student, Principal Andrea Tyrpak-Endres said.
It’s that idea of shaping the whole person that brought Sippel to even consider pursuing medicine.
“If you told me four years ago, that now I’m thinking about going pre-med or studying medicine for the purpose that I can interact with people for the rest of my life, I would not have believed you,” Sippel said. “It has come from things like retreats, service programs on the other side of the world and connect with people, it all builds up.”
A few of the distinguished alumni Canisius High School can boast about are: the late Tim Russert, host of NBC’s “Meet The Press”; Tom Perez, current Democratic National Committee chairman; Tom Fontana, Emmy winning producer; Most Rev. Joseph A. Burke, former Bishop of Buffalo and Larry Quinn, former minority owner of the Buffalo Sabres.
Qadree Ollison, ’14, and Ryan Hunter, ’13, are playing in the National Football League and several others on Division-I rosters. John Urschel ’09 recently retired from the NFL to get his PhD in math at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“People who have gone on to do incredible things in all kinds of walks of life also have an infinity to the place so they always want to give back,” said Coppola, who is also an assistant football coach. “When someone like John Urschel is always willing to come back, I think that’s unique. I don’t think most people have that appreciation of their high school like most people who went here do.”
The school has arguably one of the strongest alumni bases in the region, with a footprint prominent both locally and internationally in many different walks of life.
“I never get on jury duty because they always say ‘does anyone know any of the attorneys or judges?’ and I say, ‘yes, I taught them all’,” Tyrpak-Endres said. “We have a lot of guys out there working at Roswell and Millard and in the court system and contributing to the business world in Buffalo as well.”
But for Coppola, Canisius is more than his alma mater or place of work, it’s a second home.
“Some of my best friends in the world are people I went to school with here,” Coppola said. “Now all of the sudden I’m at point where guys I’ve taught are getting married. I’m now seeing the connections from Canisius High School has in all parts of my life. This place is super important to me.”