By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
LEE’S SUMMIT — Time to get into the game. The walls of St. Michael the Archangel High School will soon be going up.
“Some have told me, ‘Bishop, if I know for sure that this is going to be successful, when I see the walls going up, then I’ll give,” Bishop Robert W. Finn said at the May 3 groundbreaking.
“Shower this school with love,” Bishop Finn said, as he joined dignitaries and children, including some who may one day grace the halls of the proposed $30 million high school that is set to open in 2015, in breaking symbolic shovels of sod on the 80-acres of pasture that will soon be the site of a school designed to make a state-of-the-art statement.
“Generously shape it and support it so it will grow strong from the beginning,” Bishop Finn said.
“We are moving forward. We are moving Forward in Faith,” he said, echoing the name of the Forward in Faith campaign that is designed to raise $15 million toward the construction of St. Michael the Archangel High School, as well as millions more for:
• Support of the existing St. Pius X High School in Kansas City’s Northland suburbs, and Bishop LeBlond High School in St. Joseph.
• Educational assistance to families in need through the Bright Futures Fund.
• Grant programs for parish schools of religion and youth ministry.
• Financial support to local parish ministry programs.
It may look like a new beginning, said Father Robert Stewart to the few hundred gathered at the site to witness the groundbreaking. But it is really a new continuation.
“I am the third generation in my family educated in the Catholic schools in this diocese,” said Father Stewart, pastor of the nearby St. Margaret of Scotland Parish.
“We are standing tall on the shoulders of a lot of people,” he said. “We have taken their work, and we have re-imagined a new foundation. We are taking it to the present as we move to the future.”
As he learned in his own Catholic education, so must future generations who will be educated at St. Michael the Archangel High School also learn — that theirs is a school dedicated to the education of the entire person , academically, physically and spiritually, Father Steward said.
And that education is only possible through the generosity of the entire Catholic community.
“Today, we rejoice that ground is broken, but there is much work to be done,” Father Stewart said.
“Don’t be tired. This is a serious enterprise, a serious mission with Christ Jesus,” he said. “It will model a love that moves into action, renewing the earth.”
One life lesson he learned: “I cannot live for myself,” Father Stewart said. “I must give generously until the day I stop making money.”
Rita and Lamar Hunt Jr. gave $3 million to kick the Forward in Faith campaign in high gear, but he didn’t stop there. Even though he is a Catholic of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, it is all one Kansas City to him, said the son of Kansas City Chiefs and Hunt Midwest founder Lamar Hunt.
“We’ve been blessed and we want to pass these blessings along,” Hunt told the crowd.
Catholic education, he said, will equip the next generation with the tools to survive and transform a culture that is dominated by “materialism, superficiality and consumerism,” Hunt said.
And if that “upsets the apple cart,” so be it, he said.
“If you think about how Jesus Christ upset the apple cart in everything he did, when we all partake in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and hear the Gospel, my apple cart still gets upset,” he said.
He noted author Matthew Kelly’s “Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic,” and said those are the traits that Catholic education seeks in order to form the next generation.
Hunt said those signs are: Prayer, knowing the faith through study, generosity, and evangelization.
“We have to get out of our consumerist culture,” Hunt said. “Don’t be afraid to witness, and that is the one thing we Catholics do the weakest.”
Dr. Dan Peters, superintendent of Diocesan Schools, said that St. Michael the Archangel, like the existing Catholic high schools in the diocese, will be comprehensive and Catholic to its core.
“Students will be educated in a highly Catholic environment,” he said. The school will not only serve the needs of students as they prepare for higher education, but it will also serve the needs of students with special needs through the Foundation for Inclusive Religious Education, already active at Archbishop O’Hara High School in Kansas City.
That school will close when St. Michael the Archangel opens, but its legacy, as well as the 140-year legacy of St. Mary’s High School in Independence which closed at the end of the 2013 school year, will live on in the new school.
In fact, said Dr. Peters, the principal of Archbishop O’Hara High School, John O’Connor, will become the first principal of St. Michael the Archangel High School in a model of governance that is relatively new to diocesan high schools.
O’Connor will serve as principal, handling the daily operations of the school. Dr. John Purk will serve as president, keeping his eyes on the long-term success and mission of the school.
Dr. Purk said the schools mission will be built on faith, hope and love. “I want a school that will provide a living encounter with Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit that lives inside us,” Dr. Purk said.
“This will be a new school for the new evangelization,” he said.
“What the construction workers will be doing to this earth, the Father is doing to our souls,” Dr. Purk said. “He is digging deep, looking for the bedrock of faith. Then he will pour a foundation of hope, and then he will build pillars of love.”
And make no mistake. It will take the genius of two of Kansas City’s most outstanding architectural firms to make certain that the call of Christ is echoed in the building itself.
Both Keegan Jackson, partner in Hollis-Miller Group which is a leader in school design, and Mike Shaughnessy, founding principal of SFS Architecture whose imprint is also all over nation, but with special expertise in Catholic construction, are looking forward to the meeting of the minds.
“This will be a signature project for us,” said Jackson, who said the school will be built for an enrollment of 550 students, expandable to 750.
“It is also special for me and a lot of our team because we are Catholic,” he said.
“This will be a great team of people working together,” said Shaughnessy whose projects include the renovation of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. “They have experience in high schools. We have experience in working with the church.”
Together, the architects will design a building that will be so unmistakably Catholic, “that from the moment you enter, you will understand what it’s there for and why,” Shaughnessy said.
Bishop Finn assured the crowd that the new school will be all of that, even if that is hard to visualize on 80 rolling acres of pasture.
“This, like so many other things, is a work of faith, and really, a work of love,” Bishop Finn said.
“When parents first receive their children, they don’t wait to see who they will be. They immediately shower them with love,” he said.
“In that love, in that commitment, with that connection, the child grows,” Bishop Finn said.
“I ask everyone in our diocese to become committed, to become connected to this work of faith, to this necessary work of the church who in her mission must help parents form their children,” he said.
Bishop Finn also noted that the name for the new high school was chosen by the people of the diocese before Pope Francis last July dedicated a statue consecrating the Vatican to St. Michael the Archangel.
“It’s nice to agree with the pope,” Bishop Finn said.
“He said this: ‘St. Michael — whose name means “Who is like God?” — is the champion of the primacy of God, of his transcendence and power. Michael struggles to restore divine justice . . . He defends the people of God from his enemies, above all from the devil.’
“St. Michael was chosen by the people throughout the diocese as the namesake and patron of this school. He is a good patron for a school,” Bishop Finn said.
“Here we must champion the primacy of God. Here we must strengthen our young people from the snares of the devil. We want them for God. We will say to the devil each day, ‘You cannot have them!’ They belong to Jesus Christ. St. Michael the Archangel, defend them,” he said.