By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
LEE’S SUMMIT — About 40 excited freshmen from both St. Mary’s and Archbishop O’Hara high schools gathered Aug. 30 on the summit of a hill on the site of a new Catholic high school expected to open in the fall of 2015. They were there to witness a blessing of the site and to be the first to learn the results of a naming contest for the new school.
The contest’s final voting, held Aug. 10 through Aug. 24, allowed participants to select their favorite from among three finalists chosen from the suggestions of people all over the Kansas City area. The three finalists selected by Bishop Robert W. Finn, Stewardship and Development Director Steve Hilliard, and members of the school’s planning committee were: Mother of Mercy High School, St. Michael the Archangel High School and St. Francis of Assisi High School.
Hilliard announced to the students and school officials present that of over 500 votes received, more than 60 percent were for St. Michael the Archangel High School.
Following his announcement, Hilliard unfurled a banner imprinted with “Future Home of St. Michael the Archangel High School,” and handed to several students. After photographs were taken, Bishop Finn blessed the site and everyone there, saying, “Loving Father, we are gathered on this property, which has been made possible by the generosity of so many who love Catholic education … St. Michael the Archangel, protect us from sin, from evil and from anything that keeps us from the path to our Lord Jesus Christ.”
While it’s still in the planning stages, Hilliard said between 600 and 800 students are expected to enroll, including the current freshmen at St. Mary’s and O’Hara high schools, who will be in the first class to graduate from St. Michael the Archangel.
At the close of the blessing, Bishop Finn asked all who were familiar with the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel to join him in the first time the prayer was said for the new high school. The prayer, first introduced to Catholics by Pope Leo XIII in 1886, and reintroduced by Pope John Paul II in 1994, asks St. Michael to “defend us in battle, be our protector against the wickedness and snares of the devil.”
Next came a difficult request for the students, and the adults: to keep the name a secret until the Catholic Key was published Sept. 7 — a whole week!
St. Michael the Archangel High School will face Lee’s Summit Road just north of 85th Street, near the crest of a hill on the site. To its rear are expected to be a football field, a baseball diamond and a soccer field. There are trees, a small lake and rolling hills all around the site, which even the kids said was a beautiful place.
St. Mary’s High School freshman Lauren Smith said it was “really cool to see where it will be; the starting point. We’ll get to watch how it will grow and prosper. I saw a friend who used to go to Nativity of Mary where I went to grade school and we hadn’t seen each other in a long time. She goes to O’Hara and I saw her at the site of the new school. It’s exciting to know we’ll see each other again as seniors when the new high school opens.”
She liked the open fields. “At St. Mary’s you’re right in the middle of things, so the openness will be so different.”
Despite liking the site and feeling excited about the future, the idea of a new, larger high school seems “really weird” to Lauren. St. Mary’s has a small student population, 101 students, and in the 10 days students have been together this school year, “it’s gotten to feel like family,” she said. “I hope when we get to the new school it’ll feel like family too,” she said.
John O’Connor, principal of St. Mary’s and Archbishop O’Hara, had driven past the site before but the blessing and naming ceremony was the first time he had actually been on it. “It’s a beautiful piece of land,” he said. “When Steve (Hilliard) was pointing out where the new school building would be, I could still see the lake and the rolling hills. It feels like out in the country, but it’s close enough in for it to be easy to get there; accessible to St. John LaLande, Presentation, the entire eastern Jackson County area, as well as schools like St. Thomas More, Christ the King and St. Regis. When I think about it, I feel full of energy and enthusiasm to get the project going!”
St. Mary’s and Archbishop O’Hara both have a lot of history and traditions. Their students will have the opportunity to help choose the new mascot and the school colors, perhaps a combination of the blue and white of St. Mary’s and O’Hara’s green and gold, perhaps entirely new colors. The traditions and histories of the two schools will play a big part in the development of St. Michael the Archangel High School.
O’Hara freshman Joseph DiMarco, considers the prospect of St. Michael the Archangel to be a “good opportunity. We’ll be the first to use the lockers and the first to have new experiences there,” he said.
There is some sadness at the thought of O’Hara closing when the new high school opens. “My dad and two of my sisters went to O’Hara, it’s kind of a family tradition,” he said. “But I think the sadness and the excitement will even out as time passes.”
Joseph plans to enjoy the opportunities O’Hara High School offers, including the LaSallian Youth service program and student council.
“I hope we can carry LaSallian Youth to the new school,” he said.
O’Connor reassured him, saying, “Community service is a huge part of the traditions of both O’Hara and St. Mary’s. Whatever the service program is called, it will be a huge part of St. Michael the Archangel.”