By GRETCHEN KEISER, Staff Writer | Published March 17, 2005
The drive was called “Building on Faith,” and at St. Pius X High School March 11 they celebrated the fulfillment of this project which brought together many generations associated with the archdiocese’s first Catholic high school to build something wonderful for students in this new millennium.
Completed in less than a year’s time, the new 10,000-square-foot fine arts wing has a drama room, dressing rooms for men and women, a mirrored dance room with a state-of-the-art sprung floor, a new band, chorus and guitar room, and a new room for art.
In the drama room, students portraying Tony and Maria, the Sharks and the Jets, rehearsed for April performances of “West Side Story” under longtime drama director Bonnie Spark. Paintings on easels were in place throughout the new wing for the school’s first juried visual arts exhibition that opened March 12 in a performance that included the school’s concert choir and classical guitar students. The spring dance concert will be presented March 18, 19 and 20, while musicians in the school band and Catholic School Youth Band performed March 11.
The principal celebrant of the dedication Mass was Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory. Students in the fine arts programs participated as the St. Pius X Dance Company performed to “Amazing Grace” prior to Mass. Student Stephen Bush played a Communion meditation on the classical guitar, while the St. Pius X Concert Choir and Wind Ensemble led the congregational singing.
Speaking after the Mass, Archbishop Gregory said they were “multitasking” that day because the Mass was both a special Mass for vocations to the priesthood and Religious life, sponsored by the Serra Clubs of the archdiocese, and the Mass for the dedication of the new fine arts wing.
In a list of “thank yous,” the archbishop’s comment to students—“thank you for missing class”—got surprised laughter and applause.
Then he became serious.
“I’d like to thank you for giving serious thought to what the Lord may be asking of you,” he said. At the high school age, feeling called to the priesthood, brotherhood or sisterhood “is a frightening invitation,” he acknowledged. “It’s even more frightening when we don’t get the kind of support from family and friends we might need.”
Hopefully, he said, any young person who tells friends or family members “they may be thinking of being a priest or sister . . . will receive the same enthusiasm and encouragement” as if they said they were thinking of becoming an engineer or other professional.
Give this encouragement to young people called to priesthood and Religious life, he told the congregation, “for they would really be doing something great for Christ.”
Archbishop Gregory also told the benefactors who took part in the building campaign, “Thank you from the heart for your generosity to young people.”
Father Jack Durkin, school chaplain, preached at the Mass, which was concelebrated by priest faculty members and Father Bryan Small, a St. Pius graduate now serving at All Saints Church, Dunwoody.
The Eucharist is the center of Catholic faith and in it young and old receive the fullness of God and are then invited to be completely generous in giving of themselves, Father Durkin said.
“The greatest donation to any building project—the building of the church—was initiated by this loving action of Jesus Christ,” he said.
“We are to give a total self-donation to Jesus Christ. We find out who we are when we give ourselves totally.”
He once thought it impossible to become a priest, Father Durkin said. “Jesus is persistent. Jesus asked. Jesus knocked. Jesus sought, and I had to let Him in.”
He urged students, “Do not let go of Jesus in high school . . . in college.”
“If you are an athlete, give those gifts to God. If you are a dancer, give those gifts to God. If you are a singer, a musician, offer those gifts to God,” he said. “Offer your gifts today to the Lord and do it with sincerity. He wants you to have joy . . .”
Principal Steve Spellman, speaking as Mass ended and the congregation prepared to walk to the new fine arts area for the archbishop’s blessing of the structure, called the completion of the work in less than a year and the outpouring of love that made it possible a miracle.
“It is a gift of many that love this school,” he said.
He recognized four men pivotal to the building project: project superintendent Dick Sweeley from Winter Co.; Dennis Kelly from Catholic Construction Services, Inc.; Jay Suever, architect; and Jay Wolverton of Wolverton & Associates, engineers.
Sweeley, who is a parent of two St. Pius graduates and one current student, said the construction company wanted the job and when they were awarded it, he found it challenging and rewarding.
“It was a lot of fun working on this job. It was a lot of work,” he said.
One highlight of the new wing was the opportunity it presented to honor people from the St. Pius family by having a room named for an individual or family. Many took the opportunity to shine the spotlight on someone they’ve admired.
Jim and Julia Modak, parents of a sophomore and a St. Pius graduate, made a donation so an office in the dance room would be named in honor of Sister Dawn Gear, GNSH, and the late Sister Rita Raffaele, GNSH, who worked in Catholic education at St. Pius and other schools in North Georgia.
Jim Modak said the naming gave them a chance to honor both the two women Religious and the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart, their order.
“I don’t think the Grey Nuns get enough credit,” he said, noting the order’s extensive involvement in Catholic education in North Georgia.
Sister Gear and Sister Raffaele were “real, real important to us,” he said. “They’ve been so integral with Catholic education in the archdiocese and at St. Pius.”
Sister Gear, now superintendent of Catholic schools in Camden, N.J., came for the occasion as the Modaks’ guest.
“I’m very honored. I truly am. I think it was such a beautiful gesture on the Modaks’ part,” she said. “With Rita passing away, it was nice for her to be remembered in this way.”
Sister Raffaele was dean of students at St. Pius from 1979-86, and Sister Gear was her assistant.
Sister Gear was later founding principal of St. John Neumann School in Lilburn, assisted by Sister Raffaele, and at The Donnellan School in Atlanta.
George and Sally Asip’s name is on a plaque outside the drama room, signifying a remarkable and enduring connection between the Asip family and St. Pius X High School.
Thirty-six-year members of St. Jude the Apostle Church, they have eight children, 23 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren. Someone in the family has been a student at St. Pius every year except two from 1962 to the present, their son Steven said.
“The last child graduated in 1984 and a grandchild started the next fall,” he said. “It’s just been going on ever since. There’s two here now.”
Enjoying the dedication, with family and friends nearby, the Asips said they were grateful the drama room was a place where the family name could be placed and where they could enjoy knowing students into the future would benefit from the fine new facilities.
The parents, the eight children and now the grandchildren usually sing for enjoyment when they’re together, Steven Asip said.
“We love to sing. We sing as a family all the time,” he said, something that began years ago as a way to make doing the dishes more fun. It’s “three-part harmony,” he said, and a favorite is from “The Music Man.”
His parents, he said, have “remarkable faith,” as well as the zest for life they’ve passed on to their progeny.
Drama teacher Bonnie Spark said having the new facility “is an amazing event and a great validation to the work and the love that has been poured into this as an educational institution.”
A teacher at St. Pius X for 24 years, Spark said, “It has been a great part of my life. I am most grateful to the Asip family. They are God’s gift to me.”
St. Pius X senior Linda Pirkl, who was stowing her instrument in the new lockers in the band and chorus room, raved about the acoustics and other improvements in the new wing. A clarinetist, she said previously the practice area didn’t have proper acoustics.
“Before this we were playing on the stage . . . We didn’t ever sound good,” she said. “When we came in here the first time, it was like ‘Oh, wow!’ We could really hear what we sounded like.”
The nice instrument lockers are also a great improvement, she said, as previously instruments were left lying around and sometimes got lost.
“This is a great room, and it is so much bigger. It is amazing. It is a vast improvement,” Pirkl said. “I wish I were a freshman. I really am jealous of the people who are going to be coming here in the future.”
Pointing out that she has a younger brother and sister who hopefully will come to St. Pius in the future, she said that “Building on Faith” “has made our entire school so much better.”
“I am so thankful to everyone who donated. I am benefiting so much, and my little brother and sister are going to benefit so much.”