Parents pledge prayers and dollars for school expansion
by Jill Ragar Esfeld
LENEXA — Saint James Academy here is barely out of its infancy, but the students roaming its halls are already deep in discussions of college.
As the students of its first graduating class finish their junior year, the school around them will be expanding to accommodate next year’s freshmen — a group that will make the academy, at last, a full-capacity high school.
Saint James began with a donation, a prayer and a focus on faith. Those elements continue to be central influences as the school begins its first capital campaign, called “Generation to Generation: The Campaign for St. James Academy” and targeted to raise $3.6 million for expansion and improvements.
“When we first got approval to build Saint James, we knew we could only build a certain size because that’s what the finances dictated to us,” said president Mike Alex. “We knew that in the first 24 to 36 months, we were going to have to conduct a campaign to expand, in particular, space for classrooms.”
This second phase of the original master plan will include more than 15 new classrooms for the 2008-2009 school year and the completion of the Faith and Reason Wing, which will afford a fully furnished, dedicated space to the theology and science departments, including lecture rooms, labs, a greenhouse and an outdoor classroom.
An addition will be added to the west end of the existing building for a multi- purpose space to be used for classrooms, athletic activities, wrestling and a weight room. Funds are also targeted to upgrade the school’s already highly regarded fine arts program.
Honorary campaign chairman Tom Zarda, like many dedicated St. James board members, doesn’t have children at the academy, but has great faith in what Catholic education does for young people.
“I think Saint James is unique in its efforts to do a better job of teaching the children and encouraging them through example to be better Catholics,” said Zarda. “And my involvement is because I want to make sure they have the time and the resources to do that.”
When St. James was first established, Alex recalls, Archbishop James P. Keleher told him, “If we fail to pass our faith on from this generation to the next, then we’re failing in one of the most important missions we have as a church.”
As the school has grown, the archbishop’s statement has become a guiding philosophy.
“So when we went to put a name to the campaign, we really wanted something that was spiritual,” said Alex. “We found a beautiful quote about generation to generation in the [First] Book of Maccabees: ‘And so observe from generation to generation, that none who put their trust in him will lack in strength (2:61).’”
Saint Michael the Archangel parishioner Deb Weiger’s son Michael will be in the first graduating class of St. James Academy. Weiger said the family relocated to the Kansas City area three years ago and was thrilled to find the new Catholic high school.
“The faith formation is beyond our wildest expectations,” she said. “It’s really just integrated into the fiber of everything that’s done on a day-to-day basis.”
She and her husband Bernie accepted an invitation to be co-chairs of the campaign because they believe so strongly in the school’s mission of passing on the Catholic faith from one generation to the next.
“The next phase of development to expand the school, increase the access and the excellence to the next level, is something we believe passionately in. And we’re willing to invest our time in it,” she said.
As campaign co-chairs, the Weigers helped coordinate promotional materials and organized the parent part of the campaign.
More than 60 parent volunteers who have made their own pledges are personally calling on the 400 St. James families, distributing pledge cards and soliciting support. So far, the response has been good.
“It is a great sacrifice to ask of your parents,” said Alex. “Many of them, besides paying tuition, have several kids in school, kids in college, and are supporting their home parishes.
“Now you’re asking them to do a little bit more. But they have been very, very generous.”
In addition to monetary pledges, the campaign gives families an opportunity to make spiritual gifts for the support of St. James. Referred to as “priceless gifts” on the pledge card, the spiritual offerings pledged by parents and friends of the academy so far include: 1,704 hours of adoration; 3,192 Mass intentions; 6,981 rosaries; and 52,506 prayers.
“Parents are going to invest in this,” said Weiger. “But really, when it comes down to it, it’s going to be God’s graciousness that allows this to continue.”
Alex said construction for the new building is on target and will be completed around the end of April or mid-May.
“And then we will start the renovation or the completion of our interior classroom spaces, and that will be ready by August for the start of next fall,” he said. “After that point, this school will hold probably 750 to 800 students.”
Alex attributed the success of St. James to the threefold effort of faculty, parents and students.
“We’re blessed with a great faculty who are working incredibly hard, and we are blessed with really spiritual, hard-working parents who are making a lot of sacrifices for their students to come here,” he said. “And then our kids are really good, faith-filled young people.”
As the school expands and grows, everyone involved is impressed with its continued small community feeling and commitment to “faith-first” education.
“I see a very bright future for Saint James,” predicted Zarda. “I think the parents out there want to be assured when they spend that kind of money to send their children to school, they are getting not only the best education, but the best possible Catholic education to prepare their children for the future.”