Jennifer Miller
Freelance Writer
August 31, 2016 // Local

Long-awaited gymnasium blessed by Bishop Rhoades

Jennifer Miller
Freelance Writer

Kevin Haggenjos — St. Joseph Parish and grade school recently completed a $5 million building campaign that culminated in the construction of the gym, a green space and new preschool facilities, as well as renovations within the church. Following Mass on Sunday morning, Aug. 28, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades and parishioners of St. Joseph process to the new gym for a blessing of the facility.

By Jennifer Miller
All photos by Kevin Haggenjos
For more photos visit the gallery. 

Six years in the making, a new gymnasium, school addition and parish green at St. Joseph Parish, South Bend, were blessed on Sunday, Aug. 28, by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades.  They were the final developments in the parish’s “Living Our Faith, Building Our Future” campaign, which raised over $5 million in four years.

The campaign previously provided renovation of the Ackles Parish Life Center, pew refurbishment in the main church and new preschool facilities. The gym and addition were direct responses to a pastoral strategic plan that recognized the needs of the parish and sought to address them. With the new gymnasium construction, St. Joseph School is able to host Inter-City Catholic League basketball and volleyball games onsite for the first time in school history.

Father Kevin Russeau, CSC, pastor of St. Joseph Parish, recognized that “It is through the grace of God that we receive the blessing of our new spaces — spaces that will strengthen Saint Joseph Church and School, and allow its people to more fully live our mission of making God known, loved, and served. … Think of the countless number of blessings taking place within these walls over the last 90 years; each occurrence of a mind discovering a wonderful truth, each heart witnessing an act of charity, of service, of love.”

Father Edward Sorin, CSC, founded the parish in the fall of 1853. He built, on what is now the north parking lot, a 22 x 40-foot building, establishing St. Joseph Parish as a place of worship, service and education for the families in the South Bend area. This new addition revitalizes the school building that was constructed in 1926 and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The new classroom wing of the addition was named the Suzanne Wiwi Education Center, in honor of the school’s recently retired principal of 27 years. It includes classrooms for science, art and music that are “spacious, bright and inviting,” stated new Principal George Azar. “The conference rooms, school counselor room, Scrip office, staff work room and nurse’s office provide us much-needed space. We are anxiously waiting for the sod to take, so we can run around on the new green space created as well. And the new gym with concessions is amazing.” In addition to providing upgraded facilities for school use, the gymnasium and parish green will also accommodate parish-wide functions and activities.

In order to make space for the 15,000-square foot addition, the parish demolished its old parish office building — formerly a convent for the Sisters of the Holy Cross, who were serving the parish. The parish offices are now located in the new Ackles Parish Life Center, situated across the street from the addition.

Father Russeau, CSC, spoke at the dedication and blessing.

“The parish has dreamed for many years about building a first-class gymnasium and proper green play space for the children whose minds and hearts we educate,” he said.

The building and its blessing should be considered in terms of historical significance as well, he noted.

“The generations of St. Joseph faithful that have come before us have left us a great legacy — one only made possible by their fidelity and sacrifice. I continue to be humbled by the generosity within our St. Joseph community today. With these wonderful new spaces, our parish has built upon our legacy for the people of today as well as for those who will come tomorrow.”

Bishop Rhoades spoke about humility, as emphasized in the Gospel reading, in his homily. He eloquently stated: “To be humble is to recognize the truth of who we are as creatures from the earth, created by God. To be humble is to be truthful with oneself and in one’s relationship with others and with regard to God. Humility is reverence for the truth about ourselves.”

He quoted St. Augustine, whose feast day was celebrated on Aug. 28. “St. Augustine, the great sinner become saint, learned and accepted the truth about himself, that he was a sinner in need of God’s mercy. If we don’t celebrate this Jubilee Year of Mercy with that awareness, it will do us no good. As Saint Augustine says: ‘No one reaches the kingdom of heaven except by humility.’”

This active humility was demonstrated well by Father Russeau, as he wove together the many visitors and events of the day and welcomed back his fellow brother priests, Father John DeRiso, CSC, former pastor of the parish from 2004-13, and Father Nate Wills, CSC, the parish’s former associate pastor.

Azar described how the school community strives to live out this humility as well.

“Each morning after drop-off, we have enjoyed beginning our day in prayer in the new school gym, as a whole school community, before dismissing to start our day. The feedback from students of all grade levels has been exciting, and it reminds us how important it is to pray as a family. We are honored to have Bishop Rhoades bless this space, as we know it will enrich the prayer that we share in the space each morning.”

Andrew Polaniecki, parishioner and school board president, described the fulfillment of the construction with excitement.

“The new gym and classroom spaces are such a blessing to the whole parish community. Having Bishop Rhoades here for the dedication is encouraging to our families, who believe in Catholic education and desire the very best of our children.”

Toward the end of Mass, before the final blessing, Bishop Rhoades mentioned how happy he was to see so many young children in attendance. He suggested to Father Kevin that sometime soon, perhaps yet another new addition to the school building would be needed.

“Only if Father John does the fundraising,” Father Russeau quipped.

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