In January, 1876, the Dominican Sisters of the St. Cecilia Community in Nashville opened a parish school in Chattanooga at the request of the Reverend Patrick Ryan, the pastor of Saints Peter and Paul Church. In addition, to the parish school the Dominican Sisters opened a second school for non-Catholic girls.
In 1878, both schools were closed temporarily because of the yellow fever epidemic. After reopening, a period of prosperity followed; the enrollment increased so rapidly that a new and larger building was erected in 1886. In 1898, Notre Dame Academy became a co-educational parochial school; the name was unofficially changed to Notre Dame School. In 1926, Monsignor Francis T. Sullivan, pastor of Saints Peter and Paul, readied another school for occupancy on 8th Street where Notre Dame remained until 1965.
In 1954, Notre Dame High School became inter-parochial under the direction of a priest-principal, Reverend James Driscoll. This change, in keeping with the policy of the Diocese of Nashville, was to establish combined high schools in cities where there were two or more parishes. In 1963, Notre Dame High School became the first school in the Chattanooga area to become racially integrated.
Increased enrollment again necessitated more spacious accommodations. In September, 1965, Notre Dame High School moved to a new campus at 2701 Vermont Avenue, where it stands today. The Reverend William Bevington, newly appointed principal, began the process of resettlement.
Dedicated in 1966, the campus consisted of a classroom wing, a library, science lab-lecture areas, a fine arts room, and typing and home economics classrooms.
In 1967, Reverend Lawrence A. Maxwell became principal. He served three years and was followed by Reverend J. Patrick Conner in 1970. Father Conner was principal for four years.
In the fall of 1974, Notre Dame High School came under the direction of James D. Phifer, the first layman to be named principal. Under his leadership Notre Dame maintained a vibrant student body as it faced the demands of the seventies and eighties. In addition, a stadium and auditorium were constructed during his tenure.
In 1993, Gilbert L. Saenz assumed the principalship of Notre Dame High School where he served for three years. Under his leadership, the school refocused on the enhancement of institutional Catholicity, on improving curricular and academic standards, on emphasizing personal responsibility and on improving campus support structures.
In 1996, Perry L. Storey became principal of Notre Dame. The goals established by Mr. Storey were financial viability and enhanced communication among faculty, staff, students and parents, alumni, priests, parishes, feeder schools, and community partners. During his first five years as principal, the school successfully completed a five million dollar capital campaign, the largest in the school's history.
The capital campaign provided for major renovation to the existing facility and for the addition of a new wing with a state-of-the-art library/multimedia center, three new computer laboratories, and a multipurpose room. In addition to the facility changes, major curriculum innovations were implemented, including a dual enrollment program with Chattanooga State Technical Community College and an expanded Advanced Placement program. A modified block schedule was also introduced.
The John Varallo Athletic Center and Classroom Annex opened. The new facility occupies a prominent section of the NDHS campus and includes a 6,628 square-foot auxiliary gymnasium, a new weight room, new men’s and women’s locker rooms, a new art studio and dark room, four academic classrooms, new offices and training facilities and flexible use space for dance, cheerleading and yoga, an indoor wellness track, a 5,218 square-foot wrestling and training center and 4,636 square-feet of multi-use space for student, alumni and community programs. A baseball field was also added. Hunter Field was dedicated in May 2009
The fourth Bishop of Knoxville, Richard F. Stika, arranged for the return of four Dominican Sisters from the St. Cecilia Congregation in Nashville, Tennessee. With the help of many benefactors, a house on Glenwood Avenue was completely renovated for use as a convent. The Notre Dame Convent was blessed and dedicated in January 2011.