Bishop dedicates addition to Catholic grade school in Columbia


As one of the most unusual academic years in Our Lady of Lourdes Interparish School’s history was winding down, the final touches were being placed on the school’s $6.6 million, 24,000-square-foot addition.

Bishop W. Shawn McKnight joined Father Christopher Cordes, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes parish in Columbia; Elaine Hassemer, principal; Dr. Erin Vader, diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools; and several others on May 8 for a livestreamed dedication ceremony in the school’s new lobby.

“Back in August, 2019, when the addition was being completed and we were moving in, none of us could have even imagined a dedication like this one,” Mrs. Hassemer noted.

She said the time the students spent learning at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic helped reinforce the fact that a school is much more than bricks and mortar.

“It’s a thriving community which is dedicated to the spiritual, intellectual and moral development of our students,” she said.

The addition includes 12 new classrooms, a writing lab, a creative interactive learning environment known as a “makerspace,” multiple small teaching spaces, and a new media center and school office.

The brickwork matches the nearby Our Lady of Lourdes Church and the Our Lady of Lourdes Education Center in the church’s lower level.

The completed complex offers enhanced security and 21st-century functionality for the roughly 625 students in grades kindergarten through 8, and for those who teach them and form them in the faith.

It also includes advanced technology and upgrades to the mechanical, electrical, plumbing, lighting, and heating and cooling systems, as well as a FEMA-rated storm shelter with room for all of the students and faculty.

Safe and secure

Fr. Cordes thanked God for the addition and everyone who had a hand in getting it built — “those here today and the many, many others who are not able to be with us because of health concerns and space restraints.”

“We ask for Your continued guidance and blessing on us and on all that happens in this building, our school, our parish, our diocese and all of us in our lives, following You and bringing Your Good News to the world,” he prayed.

Fr. Cordes thanked Mrs. Hassemer for guiding the school steadily through the planning, construction and various phases of moving and reorganizing.

He pointed out that planning for the addition began in 2013, while Monsignor Michael Flanagan, now retired, was pastor.

“Our two major motivations were to increase the safety and security of our students and our school community and to improve the equational environment,” he said.

Beginning in 2016, people from all three Columbia parishes made pledges to the capital campaign for the school addition.

Construction commenced in the Fall of 2018. The moving of classrooms and offices and use of the new portion began last fall, and finishing work on the inside and outside concluded during the current school year.

The addition and new entrance stand on ground once occupied by an avenue of temporary, portable classrooms.

“We were able to move all those classes into the main building and create a dedicated space for the sixth through eighth grades, as well as our specialized classrooms and our administration area,” said Fr. Cordes.

“New life”

Those attending included Brad Stegeman, representing Simon Oswald Architecture, which designed the addition; Bryan McCullam, representing Diamond Design, the general contractor; Brad Copeland, diocesan director of buildings and properties; members of the building committee; Assistant Principal Katie Helfer; teacher Donna Blauch; and Sololmon Kinoy, president of the student council.

Fr. Cordes thanked Dominican Father Richard Litzau, pastor of St. Thomas More Newman Center parish, and Father Francis Doyle, pastor of Sacred Heart parish, both in Columbia, for theirs and their parishes’ support of the project.

He also thanked Bishop Emeritus John R. Gaydos, now retired, for his support throughout the planning stage and Bishop McKnight for permitting the project to move forward.

He also recognized the members of the campaign committee that raised the money for the project, and the people who donated to it.

Dr. Vader said it’s always  beautiful to see new growth and new life in Catholic education.

“The sort of new growth we’re seeing and blessing today speaks to a healthy and vibrant Catholic community,” she pointed out.

She said the expanded school is an extension of the mission of Our Lady of Lourdes parish to provide a Christ-centered learning community.

“And it’s a reminder to all of us that Catholic education is necessary, that it is vital for the future of our Church and for our world,” she stated.

She said the new walls and furnishings are a physical reminder of the Church’s obligation “to form our youngest Catholic Christians as stewards and servant leaders.”

“It reminds us of our calling to help these children discover their talents and gifts they have been given by God,” she said. “And it reminds us of our responsibility to help them use those talents to be Christ’s hands and feet in this world.”

A work of mercy

Bishop McKnight emphasized the importance of Catholic education in building-up parishes and the whole Church.

“Catholic schools help parishes to be centers of mercy and charity,” he said. “Education is a fundamental corporal work of mercy.

“And as we go about thanking God for the blessings He has bestowed upon us in this structure and all that will take place here, we are reminded, too, of our obligation as leaders and adults to provide an environment that is safe and healthy,” he said.

The bishop thanked everyone who was involved with this project: “the workers, the laborers, the architects, the engineers, and everybody who assisted with that, the faculty and the leadership of the school, as well as your pastor.”

He prayed for God to make the upgraded school building “a center where students and teachers imbued with the words of truth will search for the wisdom that guides the Christian life and strive wholehearted to stand by Christ as their teacher.”

The bishop and Fr. Cordes then sprinkled holy water onto the walls and floor of the addition.

Fr. Cordes said the school will hold an open house when circumstances permit.