By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published September 1, 2016
HAPEVILLE—Families, students and supporters of St. John the Evangelist School celebrated on Thursday, Aug. 25, the completion of its $4 million new addition and other school improvements.
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory made it official as his oversized scissors cut the ribbon, opening the 14,000-square-foot enrichment building.
Pam Henry has worked in the classrooms at St. John the Evangelist for some 35 years. Soon to retire, she said the facility offers new experiences for students and their families, such as the ability to host theater productions without having to jam parents into church pews for a show. Now there will be a proper stage and a regulation-size home gym for the Eagles. School functions in the past would be squeezed into the sacred space of the church, which wasn’t ideal, she said. Now the school community will have the chance to stretch out as it moves events out of the lunchroom.
“To the school, it’s going to add so much. To the parish, it’s going to add so much,” said Henry.
The facility includes a performing arts stage, concession store and full-size gymnasium. It is the largest enhancement made at the school since its founding in 1954. The new building also freed up space in an existing structure for the fine arts program to expand, adding classrooms for music and art. An expanded parking lot has space for nearly 70 cars. In addition, a pocket park fills an inner courtyard, creating a place for students and teachers to take a few moments for reflection and prayer, among other activities.
The school is scheduled to host the Archdiocesan Battle of the Books in the new facility next May.
St. John the Evangelist School has some 319 enrolled students. Twice its achievements by students, faculty and administrators earned the title of National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence.
Father Michael Onyekuru, pastor of St. John the Evangelist Church, told the large crowd of supporters seated on folding chairs that the new facility will play a part in developing young students, from athletics to spiritual needs. He said students and parishioners who gather in the building will see the face of Jesus in the newcomers they welcome.
“People’s lives will be refreshed,” he said.
He said the day was a celebration, bringing together the parish and the school for the common good.
Principal Karen Vogtner kept her remarks brief to hold back tears. She called the completed construction project “a dream and a vision.”
“To see the children here makes my heart overflow,” she said.
Archbishop Gregory offered his own congratulations on the project before blessing the building.
“We now ask God to bless every inch of this building and the hearts that will use it,” he said, before walking through the building and sprinkling the rooms with holy water.
Other honored guests included Superintendent of Catholic Schools Diane Starkovich and Hapeville Mayor Alan Hallman.
The building campaign goal was about $4.1 million. Many groups have contributed to raise $2.7 million so far.
Tracy Bevington, a parent of two students, announced a contribution of $164,000 for the building fund from employees of Delta Air Lines. Bevington, who is a director at the airline, said there are about two dozen parents working at Delta with children enrolled at the school. The donation was enlarged through a challenge grant from an anonymous Delta executive, which was matched by the Delta Air Lines Foundation.
People at Delta Air Lines believe in the mission of the school, with its superior education and instruction, and applaud its diverse student body, she said. Just as the airline connects people of different cultures around the world, this school’s students live that same diversity, she said.
Parishioners of St. Philip Benizi Church, Jonesboro, also worked together to raise some $25,000 for the effort.
The celebration began earlier in the morning with a school Mass, where seven priests, including former pastors and neighboring pastors, joined the archbishop at the altar, assisted by two deacons. Members of the Knights of Columbus and the Knights of Peter Claver also attended, with their plumed hats and ceremonial swords.