COLUMBIA — A group of Catholics in Columbia admits to being crazy.
After nine years of planning and raising $9.3 million, about 100 people gathered in 90-degree heat in a dusty field off of Gans Road for the groundbreaking ceremony of Father Augustine Tolton Regional Catholic High School.
"Are you people crazy?" Donald F. Novotney, Catholic school superintendent for the diocese, asked. The crowd laughed and nodded.
The event Sunday marked the end of a once-daunting idea and the beginning of a feasible reality.
When construction of the estimated $16 million high school is complete, plans include a gymnasium, cafeteria, virtual classroom, science lab, media center, chapel and more.
Students in grades nine and 10 are scheduled to begin classes in the fall of 2011. Depending on fund raising, the addition of grades 11 and 12 are planned to start in 2012 and 2013, respectively.
“It’s an exciting event and an exciting process for the community,” executive committee chairwoman Kate Trauth said.
Mass is planned to be part of the school's curriculum. For project supporter Jim Shauwecker, faith-based education is something that will set this high school apart from others in the Columbia area.
“That’s why we’re doing this — so we can pray, worship and learn,” Schauwecker said.
Students who are not of the Catholic faith are still welcome to attend the private high school. Speakers at the groundbreaking said they aim to equip students with an education that will prepare them for college, as well as teach Catholic values.
Novotney said many current social norms contradict Catholic values. Reinforcing ideals of the Catholic Faith will be part of the education students get at the new school, he said.
The school was named after Father Augustine Tolton, who was born into slavery but worked to overcome adversity to become a priest. Despite discrimination and difficult odds, he always maintained his Catholic beliefs.
“He is a very strong example to our students about persevering in the faith even when you’re up against tremendous odds,” Trauth said.
There is still a lot to be done in terms of fund raising and construction for the school, but the groundbreaking event marks progress in a longtime dream.
“This is truly a singular event for the community, the region, and the diocese,” Trauth said.