Catholic schools prepare for bright futures

By Michele Chan Santos
Senior Correspondent

The classrooms are full and bustling, the pencils are fresh, and throughout the diocese, students are making new friends and meeting new teachers. As the 2015-2016 school year begins, there are many developments, expansions and celebrations happening in the Catholic schools around the diocese. 
Some campuses have expanded –– or will soon be expanding –– their physical space to better serve their students.
“The new construction is exciting,” said Dr. Ned Vanders, superintendent of Catholic Schools of the Diocese of Austin. “Our schools hold the future; and the additional classrooms and learning spaces ensure that future for many years to come.”
At Santa Cruz Catholic School in Buda, a new addition was recently completed.
The $2.5 million project added nine classrooms, four religious education offices and a large youth meeting room, as well as renovating the school office. The library also doubled in size, and the school now has a dedicated music and band hall, science lab and art room.
Susan Flanagan, principal at Santa Cruz, is excited about the changes. 
“It’s beautiful. Last year we didn’t have an art or music room, the teachers had to float from classroom to classroom. Space for those enrichment classes is so important,” she said.
Bishop Joe Vásquez will dedicate the new addition on Sept. 27.
San Juan Diego Catholic High School in South Austin is making progress with their capital campaign. San Juan Diego is unique in that each student works five eight-hour days each month at a professional internship.
San Juan Diego’s goal is to raise $9.6 million with their Phase I capital campaign, in order to build a math and science center, fine arts center and gymnasium. Don Hill, director of development at San Juan Diego, said they have raised $6.5 million toward their goal. 
“We’re hoping to start construction in late fall,” Hill said. “So we can have those buildings open in January 2017.”
To date St. Gabriel’s Catholic School in Southwest Austin has raised $5.3 million of their $6.6 million fundraising goal, said Daniel McKenna, head of school at St. Gabriel.
Construction of the new facilities funded by the campaign has already begun. When the project is complete in January, St. Gabriel will have a new chapel, a new multimedia research area (including a new library and large group instruction space), a robotics lab, a new performing arts area and a “Maker Space,” a design lab. The Maker Space will enhance the STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) programs at St. Gabriel.
“The Maker Space is state-of-the-art. We’re thrilled,” McKenna said. New practice facilities for the basketball and volleyball teams will also be included in the project. McKenna said the enrollment at St. Gabriel –– about 450 students in Pre-K through 8th grade –– is the highest it’s ever been.
In other developments, Holy Family Catholic School in North Austin added a third kindergarten class; they will continue adding a third section of students to the succeeding grades over the next eight years. Also, St. Michael’s Catholic Academy in Southwest Austin renovated its science lab.
Three schools are celebrating landmark anniversaries this year.
“The hard work and dedication of the founders are inspirational,” Dr. Vanders said. “It is gratifying to know that their vision continues and lives on for future generations.”
St. Ignatius Martyr Catholic School in Austin is celebrating its 75th anniversary. The kickoff event was a Mass with Bishop Vásquez on Aug. 9 with many alumni, parents and students, which was followed by a rededication and blessing of the school, tours and a reception. This was the first of many anniversary activities planned for this year, including an Alumni Mass and street dance in October. 
Principal Jenny Malone said the anniversary kickoff is a fun way to start the year.
“We have a great group of teachers coming back, and our kids are so good. It’s the excitement of starting fresh again,” she said. The school also has a new metal roof and St. Ignatius Parish will be launching a capital campaign soon to improve the school and church.
St. Ignatius was founded in the fall of 1940 by Holy Cross Father Patrick Duffy as a basement school with five rooms for Kindergarten through eighth grades. The current building was constructed in 1955, and expanded in the 1980s. St. Ignatius serves 240 students in grades PreK3-8.
St. Joseph Catholic School in Killeen will mark its 60th anniversary. The school has a new pastor, Father Chris Downey. St. Joseph School opened in the fall of 1955 with only two teachers and 54 students. The current building was opened in 1974. Plans are underway to celebrate the school anniversary.
Sacred Heart Catholic School in La Grange will commemorate their 80th anniversary. The school has a new administrator, Father Matthew Kinney.
“We have a committee which has already been working toward the anniversary celebrations that will be held this year,” Father Kinney said. “There are so many people who live in the area who are alumni of Sacred Heart Catholic School. They are really the history of the school. All of the alumni I have met are very proud of coming from Sacred Heart.”
He was eager to get started with the new school year.
“I very much believe in the power of education and the experience we have to offer through Catholic education,” he said.
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