By ERIKA ANDERSON-Staff Writer | Published January 5, 2006
Parents, students, faculty and a parish community celebrated as the new school and parish educational facility at St. Catherine of Siena Church was dedicated by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory on Dec. 20, 2005.
The dedication came three months after it was originally scheduled, after Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue canceled school to conserve fuel in late September following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. But those who attended the chilly celebration before Christmas say it was well worth the wait.
Archbishop Gregory celebrated a Mass along with concelebrants Father Brendan Doyle, pastor, and Father Maxis St. Fleur, parochial vicar. Father Bryan Small, parochial vicar, served as the master of ceremonies.
Acknowledging the impending arrival of Christmas, Archbishop Gregory focused on the idea of gifts in his homily to the schoolchildren, faculty, parents and other adults gathered for the dedication Mass.
“Five days left!” he said, causing a ripple of smiles across the faces of the congregation. “Five days left … can you wait?”
“Gifts are very important, and we all love to receive them. … Gifts come in different sizes and shapes, sometimes neatly wrapped.”
“Today St. Catherine of Siena celebrates a gift … a new school building … one that is too big to be wrapped,” he said, adding that this new educational building is a special gift, prepared with a prayer of blessing. It’s a gift to the people of the community, but it didn’t need to be wrapped “because everyone already knew what it was.”
Archbishop Gregory reminded those present that many people made the gift of the new educational building at St. Catherine’s possible through their generosity, and this gift will become a part of the “celebration of parish life” at the church. In this building, children will learn about God’s creation and goodness, as well as subjects like history, art, science, English and religion.
He thanked all of the benefactors who had made the gift of this building possible.
The archbishop also focused on the blessings of Christmas by saying that “at the end of the week, the whole world will receive a gift, wrapped in swaddling clothes, that won’t have ribbons and special bows, but it will be announced by a star.” He said that God allowed ordinary people, like shepherds and poor people, to see the most important gift he gave to the world first—Jesus. And this gift from God was “more generous than anyone can imagine.”
“Five more days,” he said. “It’s difficult, waiting for gifts.”
“Let us thank the Father for giving us the gift that none of us deserve but all of us need for life.”
Following the Mass, the congregation left the warmth of the church to gather around the flagpole outside of the new building. There the archbishop prayed that the new facility would be a center of “seeking, of learning and of teaching what it true,” and that it would join the “discoveries of human wisdom with the joys of the Gospel.”
The students then went back to their classrooms as the archbishop walked throughout the building blessing each room and talking to the students. Kindergarten students lined the hallway and sang “God is love,” as Archbishop Gregory walked among them, smiling and blessing them. In one classroom, where the students were having snack time, the archbishop joked, “Snacks are the best subject.”
A quote from St. Catherine of Siena, “If you are what you should be, you will set the world ablaze” painted high on the wall in the entranceway, greets those walking into the building.
The St. Catherine community moved into the 44,000-square-foot educational facility in August 2005. The building, which is used by both the school and parish, contains 17 classrooms, as well as a day chapel, technology lab, science lab, art room, music room, band room and Spanish classroom. A new media center and cafeteria is also housed in the building, as well as new administrative offices, including those of the parish school of religion. Phase two of construction will include renovation of Herbert Hall, St. Catherine’s existing parish hall, which will be remodeled as a regulation-size basketball gym, while continuing to serve the multipurpose needs of the parish. The second phase will also include added technology and athletic resources, such as a soccer field and playground.
The architects for the approximately $3 million project are Tuck, Stinard & Associates of Kennesaw.
The school, which opened in 2002, has 240 students in kindergarten through sixth grade. In the next two years, the school will expand to include seventh and eighth grade. Last year, the community welcomed the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia to the school, including Sister Maria Goretti, OP, principal, who said she is grateful for the support given by the entire St. Catherine community.
“As a parochial school, we can’t be separated from the parish, and the school is a way that the parish ministers to the families,” she said. “This is a space for the parish to meet the needs of children and adults alike. This new educational facility gives us space to grow together in truth and love.”
Father Doyle, who has been pastor of St. Catherine’s for only about six months, said that in addition to the parish school of religion, the parish has been using the building for adult education, faith enrichment and many other purposes. The parish and school have a unique marriage.
“It’s all one deal, really. That’s our role—to minister from conception until death,” he said.
The new building offers a “tremendous benefit” for outreach in evangelical, social and educational programs in the parish as well as the school, Father Doyle said.
“This is a very exciting time and a great witness to the servitude of the educational and parish life at St. Catherine of Siena.”
Parents of students at St. Catherine are also excited about this new phase in the community’s history.
Ann Contrucci, who has twins in second grade, said she has been bolstered by the “sense of community and the sisters.”
“This school is just fantastic,” she said. “I feel like my children are getting a well-rounded education—everything a Catholic education should be.”
Liz Wiley, whose two daughters attend the school, has made good use of both the parish and school. She and her husband were married at the church and her children were baptized there.
“This is like an extension of our family,” she said.
As the Home and School Association’s event coordinator, Wiley spends much of her free time at the school but says she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“My kids really get so much from being here,” she said. “I just want to give back as much as I can.”
Scott Hill, who has two children at the school and one in the parish’s pre-school, said that the school has gotten “better every year.”
“They are really stepping up to meet any challenges that come their way,” he said. “And the community is really behind us, which is great.”
As the faculty and students prepared to leave for Christmas break, they had more than one reason to celebrate. The same week the dedication event was held, the school was awarded its initial accreditation from the Southern Association of Independent Schools.
St. Catherine of Siena School will host an open house on Jan. 28 at 10 a.m. The school is located at 1618 Ben King Road in Kennesaw. For more information, call (770) 419-8601 or visit www.scsiena.org.