Ground blessed, broken for Columbia school expansion

Long-awaited project will retire portable classrooms


Click here for a gallery of photos from this event.

Students’ strident strains of “Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel?” pushed back at the sounds of the city during an April 20 groundbreaking ceremony at Our Lady of Lourdes Interparish School (OLLIS) in Columbia.

Bishop W. Shawn McKnight blessed the ground where a $6.6 million addition to the school is slated to open in the fall of 2019.

He did so in sight of all 642 students, the faculty and staff, many parents and committee members and representatives of the diocese and larger Columbia community.

He then joined an illustrious contingent in turning over shovelfuls of dirt, symbolizing that the project has finally begun.

Joining him with shovels were: Bishop Emeritus John R. Gaydos; Father Christopher Cordes, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes parish; Father Francis Doyle, pastor of Sacred Heart parish; Dominican Father Richard Litzau, pastor of St. Thomas More Newman Center parish; Monsignor Michael T. Flanagan, senior associate and longtime pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes; Sister Julie Brandt SSND, diocesan associate superintendent of schools; and students Kate Ryan and Molly Gibson.

A group of ambassadors from the Columbia Chamber of Commerce then gathered around as Bishop McKnight ceremonially severed a yellow ribbon with a large pair of scissors.

On cue, everyone shouted, “Let’s celebrate our new school!” as Bishop McKnight made the cut.

The long-awaited addition will include 12 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.

It will eliminate the need for mobile classrooms and increase safety and security.

Simon Oswald Architecture of Columbia is the architectural firm for the project, and Professional Contractors & Engineers is the general contractor.

More than $5.5 million of the $6.6 million cost has been pledged for the Columbia parishes’ five-year “Funding a Faithful Future” capital campaign.


A day to remember

“This day has been long coming,” Principal Elaine Hassemer stated. “I know Msgr. Flanagan has been thinking about this need for years. But thanks to the support of the Catholic community in Columbia, it’s finally going to happen!”

Students watched while seated on blankets where portable classrooms stood for over a decade. The “trailers” have been moved to the other side of the building to make room for construction.

Mrs. Hassemer thanked Bishop Emeritus Gaydos for his support throughout the planning stage and Bishop McKnight for permitting the project to move forward.

“Boys and girls, years from now as you drive down Bernadette Drive and you look at this school, you’ll be telling people in the car, ‘I remember when they broke ground for that school!’” she said.

Fr. Cordes thanked Mrs. Hassemer and the numerous members of councils and commissions from all three parishes who helped get the project to the building stage.

Also present were Benedictine Father Pachomius Meade, associate pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes parish; Sister Elizabeth Youngs SCL, diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools; Brad Copeland, diocesan buildings and properties director; and Bernard Naumann, principal of Fr. Tolton Regional Catholic High School.


Awesome foundation

Fifth-grader Kate Ryan proclaimed a Scripture passage: “By the grace God has given me, I laid the foundation as a wise builder and someone is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that is already laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:10-11).

Fr. Cordes thanked Kate for reminding everyone that God is the true foundation of this project “and for all of our projects.”

Bishop McKnight called upon God to bless the ground, the project, all who would work on it and all who would put the enlarged building to use.

He said the work that was about to begin “should enliven our faith and make us grateful.”

In measured steps around the perimeter of the construction site, he then sprinkled holy water on the ground, setting it aside for holy purposes.

The student choir led everyone present in a rousing rendition of “Our God is an Awesome God.”

Bishop McKnight told the choir members afterward how well they had sung, and that he had gotten to know Rich Mullins, the song’s composer, by giving him instruction to become Catholic.


A place to grow

Eighth-graders Tahki Chievous and Christian Rischer sang in the choir.

Neither will still be at Lourdes when the addition is completed, but they’re both happy the project is getting under way.

“I hope it will be put to good use and that it will be a safer environment for all the kids and a better learning environment,” said Christian.

“I hope everyone here can grow in their faith and education and learn from mistakes they’ve previously made and grow from them,” said Tahki.

On behalf of his classmates, Christian asked for prayers “for the forgiveness of sins, for our growing in education and learning and for the strengthening of everyone’s faith here.”

“And that everyone stays with God,” Tahki added.


Honored to take part

Molly Gibson, a seventh-grader, wrote a paragraph that earned her a place in the “shovel brigade” at the ground-breaking.

“I wrote that since I won’t be here when they move into the new part of the school because I’m going to be graduating, I would like to be part of the ceremony,” said Molly, who’s also the student council vice president.

She said “it was cool” to get to meet Bishop McKnight and Bishop Emeritus Gaydos, and that she likes going to OLLIS.

“It’s just a great environment,” she said. “It’s really safe, and we get taught everything we need to learn about the faith.”

Another winning paragraph was written by fifth-grader Kate Ryan, who proclaimed the Scripture reading.

She practiced hard to get the reading just right.

“I’m impressed that they picked this reading,” she said afterward, “because it goes together so nicely with what’s going on at our school right now.”

She felt honored to sit next to Bishop Emeritus Gaydos and to meet him and Bishop McKnight.

Kate said she’s excited about getting to use the school’s expanded facilities after they’re completed.

She doesn’t miss the portable classroom she went to school in last year.

“For one thing, you don’t have a bathroom,” she said. “So you have to come back into the building for that.”


Bringing Catholics together

Fr. Cordes said the addition is essential to the school’s long-term success.

“Updating and restructuring our educational environment and doing necessary work to our current facility will better enable us to meet the needs of our students now and into the future,” he said.

He was quick to thank everyone who has worked, given, prayed and helped with this project in any way.

“There are too many to single any out, but I really appreciate all the effort,” he said.

He pointed out the goal of this and every other Catholic school is “to educate and form the whole person, with faith and spirituality at the center.”

Fr. Litzau said the people at St. Thomas More Newman Center parish are pleased to be a part of the school expansion.

“We’re excited about Catholic education and the role the Newman Center plays in it,” he said.

He believes the project and the capital campaign leading up to it have brought Columbia’s three parishes closer together, uniting the faithful in their commitment to Catholic education.

“We’re planting seeds here today,” he said.

Fr. Doyle said the expansion couldn’t happen without support from all three parishes.

“There have been a lot of people guiding the efforts, but without all the support and the donations of so many people, it would have been impossible,” he said.

He noted that Sacred Heart, as the first and longest-serving parish in Columbia, was the cradle of Catholic education in the city.

“We’re all one Catholic community, and although it did initially begin at Sacred Heart, it doesn’t really matter the physical location,” he said. “We’re just continuing that important tradition.”