Xavier completes building expansion with Founders Hall

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Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted blessed Founders Hall at Xavier College Preparatory Aug. 31. The 90-minute ceremony was live streamed for those who couldn't follow the blessing from one room to the next (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

All 1,521 donors can now lay a claim to a piece of Xavier history. Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted blessed and dedicated Founders Hall and Chapel of Our Lady Aug. 31.

The 90-minute dedication, which also renamed five outdoor campus areas in honor of donors and legends, completed a four-year quest to provide adequate classroom and meeting space for Xavier’s clubs, teams, Advancement Office and parent groups. Most students watched the dedication via a live feed in the performing arts center with donors and other community members waiting inside the hall itself.

The dedication marked a new era at Xavier. It finally gave teachers their own classroom. At least two or three teachers went without a permanent classroom for the last 20 years or so. The opening also provided Xavier with its first full-scale cafeteria.

“Students walked in there and it was like they had been there forever. There was no initiation,” Sr. Joan Fitzgerald, principal, said about the girls’ first steps inside Founders Hall.

She now finds students there by 6:30 a.m. eating breakfast and doing homework. Xavier staff likens Founders Hall to a student union.

“It’s given us a real localized space to build community,” said Sr. Joan, who arrived at Xavier 50 years ago August.

The two-story hall features 10 new classrooms equipped with interactive “SMART” walls and two photo labs. Xavier students took turns offering a prayer at the doorway of each classroom before the bishop blessed the new learning space.

All this newness also sparked interest in something a bit older. Around 150 students each semester are signed up to take black-and-white photography.

The second floor features an open view of the cafeteria below and a view of the new chapel’s copper dome. The 350-seat chapel is also part of Founders Hall. It’s large enough for an entire grade level.

“The jewel of the campus is the chapel,” Sr. Joan said.

MaryBeth Mueller, superintendent of schools for the diocese, agreed. In a short address during the dedication, Mueller called it “breathtaking.”

“The craftsmanship radiates the presence of Jesus Christ,” she said.

Eight stained glass windows on one side depict Marian apparitions. On the other, 20-foot stained glass windows depict the litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary opened Xavier in 1943. The order’s seal helps illuminate the choir loft.

Dean Dwyer, a local artist who has also completed other diocesan projects, did the woodwork for the 10-foot crucifix plus the ambo, tabernacle and frame of the altar. Nathan Ward, a sculpture instructor at Xavier, carved out the design within the altar. Everyone at the dedication left with small boxes of the woodchips as a memento.

He spent 10 months chipping away a 4-foot-by-7-foot piece of soft maple. The end result was a lamb holding a cross with eight symbolic floral motifs — like the laurel for Christ’s victory and the lily after the BVM sisters — forming an arc in the background.

“Everything was very thought through,” Ward said.

The same goes for the building itself. Xavier students gave design input that resulted in an energy-efficient hall and a solar chiller system. They helped select healthy food choices, recycling systems, desks, chairs and other aesthetics.

The project — the last major build for the foreseeable future — also added 70 new parking spaces and will ultimately link drivers from the school’s main entryway directly to Founders Hall.

Students raised $4,000 over the years through buck-a-jean days to help open Founders Hall. The community has already pledged another $2,000 for this year’s X Breakfast, which has served as the project’s primary funding source since 2008. The breakfast is 7:30 a.m. Sept. 13 in Founders Hall.

Founders Hall opens as the latest building on Xavier’s campus honoring benefactors and local legends. Petznick Field and the McGroder athletic building — both honoring families who were crucial in land acquisition — opened last November. The Virginia G. Piper Performing Arts Center opened in 2003 and Fitzgerald Hall was re-named in 2001 after Xavier’s longtime principal.

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