The 29-acre piece of land is adjacent to Fr. Tolton Regional Catholic High School and could potentially be used for a new parish and grade school, though Bishop John R. Gaydos said no final decision has been made.
Growth in Columbia and the Catholic community has contributed to overcrowding for the three local parishes — Our Lady of Lourdes, Sacred Heart Catholic Church and St. Thomas More Newman Center — as well as Our Lady of Lourdes Interparish School, formerly known as Columbia Catholic School. (This story is available to Missourian digital members.)
COLUMBIA — The Diocese of Jefferson City announced Friday that it purchased 29 acres of land in southeast Columbia with the possibility of building a new parish and grade school on the property.
The parcel of land, on Gans Road, is directly west of Fr. Tolton Regional Catholic High School, which opened in 2011 as Columbia's first and only Catholic secondary school.
The purchase follows efforts by the diocese to evaluate the need and support for a new parish and grade school in Columbia. The diocese made it clear, though, that the final decision on land use has not been made.
Columbia has three Catholic parishes — Our Lady of Lourdes, Sacred Heart and St. Thomas More Newman Center — and two Catholic schools, Tolton and one K-8 school, Our Lady of Lourdes Interparish School.
According to previous Missourian reporting, growth in Columbia's Catholic community has led to overcrowding at the interparish school.
In December, Our Lady of Lourdes reported a student population of more than 600 with a waiting list of 50, not including those on the kindergarten waiting list.
A second interparish school would relieve overcrowding at Our Lady of Lourdes and funnel more students into Tolton, said Dan Joyce, director of communications for the diocese.
Now in its the third year of operation, Tolton had 183 students enrolled in grades 9 through 12 as of August. The school has a capacity of 400.
Between 2002 and 2012, the number of parishioners in the three Columbia parishes has increased by 16 percent. Diocese documents show that registered households in the parishes total 4,054, but available seating in the churches is only 1,750.
In November, listening sessions were held at the diocese's three Columbia parishes to assess local Catholic need and support for a new parish and grade school.
Joyce said that after the sessions, there was "an understanding that there was a need for additional school space with the growth needs of the Catholic community in Columbia." Those concerns are being taken into account by the diocese's Columbia Project Executive Committee, he said.
The committee is currently reviewing and analyzing the information gathered during the listening sessions, as well as during a January meeting with a target group of diocesan priests.
The final decision will come from Bishop John R. Gaydos, head of the diocese, which includes Columbia, Hannibal and Jefferson City. Joyce said Gaydos has not yet provided a deadline for the project or a date to expect his decision.
The diocese decided to purchase the property when it became available based on its desirable location next to the high school complex.
"It's a way to take advantage of availability in a very desirable area," Joyce said."There's a lot going on over there, and it's very marketable if we end up having to sell the land."
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