by Joe Bollig
SENECA — Excited? You bet they were excited, and not just because it was the first day of school.
“There was a lot of excitement when [the students] walked through the doors,” said Nancy Steinlage, Sts. Peter and Paul School secretary. “The new school had something to do with it.”
Classes at the newly built Sts. Peter and Paul School started Aug. 19. Some of the students had seen the new facility during the blessing and dedication on Aug. 2, but the first day of classes was the first look for others.
Ah, there’s nothing like that new school smell.
But this nice, shiny, new school wouldn’t have been built without many sacrifices from parishioners, said pastor Father Michael Koller.
“It means that we have a very vibrant community that believes strongly in its faith, and are very strong supporters of the parish and of Catholic education,” said Father Koller. “With 830 families and a $3.9 million facility, they did very well.”
The one-story, 25,267- square-foot building houses about 175 students, 13 teachers and seven staff. It has a preschool, kindergarten, and grades one through five. Students in grades six through eight go to the junior high building (the former high school), which has also seen some renovations and improvements.
Construction of the old school began in 1895 and was completed late (thanks to the intervention of a tornado) in 1898. Generations of Seneca Catholics were called to their books by the ringing of the school bell.
Time and changing needs took their toll, and about 15 years ago the parish began to plan to replace it. The old school was razed in the summer of 2008, and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann presided at a groundbreaking for the new facility on Aug. 9 that year.
The archbishop returned almost a year to the date for a blessing and dedication of the new school on Aug. 2, which was also marked the 140th anniversary of the parish.
Father Koller and approximately 15 other priests concelebrated with the archbishop, who also gave the homily at the 3 p.m. Mass.
The archbishop was joined at the altar by Abbot Barnabas Senecal, OSB, of St. Benedict’s Abbey in Atchison, and parish natives Abbot Owen Purcell, OSB, and Abbot Ralph Koehler, OSB, both retired. Former pastor Father Roderic Giller, OSB, was honored for having launched the process that culminated in the new school.
After the Mass, Archbishop Naumann led a procession of clergy and parishioners to the entrance of the new school. There, he blessed the structure and welcomed everyone inside by ringing the old school bell, which, with the old belfry, had been salvaged and incorporated into the new structure. The old school’s cornerstone, too, was saved for the new school.
While inside, the archbishop blessed the parish hall/school cafeteria, computer lab, library, seven classrooms, gymnasium, locker room, kitchen, offices, teacher workroom, and eucharistic adoration chapel.
A dinner, sponsored by the Knights of Columbus, was held following the blessing and dedication.