“You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden,” said Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, quoting Matthew 5:16, during the blessing ceremony for the new school and parish education center at San Francisco de Asís Parish in Flagstaff Feb. 12.
The bishop celebrated the 10 a.m. Mass with the northern Arizona congregation that filled the 1,200-seat church. Many of the students of San Francisco de Asís School attended in uniform.
“What a church!” Bishop Olmsted said as he began the blessing after Mass in the new building’s Upper Room that has a view of the San Francisco Peaks from its perch atop McMillan Mesa. “Such a magnificent place to have it — perhaps the best view by far in all of Flagstaff. And the point is that it can’t be hidden and we, who are followers of Jesus and have the privilege of being baptized, cannot be hidden.”
The completion of the school and parish education center marks the end of a long construction phase for the parish, which also included the building of a new church that was blessed in 2013.
Built into the side of the mesa, the newest three-floor parish building includes a 9,513-square-foot grand room on the upper floor. The lowest level includes two large, open rooms — a parish hall and a multi-purpose/youth ministry hall. In the center are three meeting rooms and a Knights of Columbus conference room.
Spanning more than 28,146 square feet, the new school is located on the main level along with the parish and school administration offices. It features a gymnasium in the center surrounded by pre-kindergarten through eighth grade classrooms in a U-shape. On the west side of the building are school specialty rooms — a library, science center, computer lab, and also art and music spaces.
The gymnasium is used as the school’s cafeteria during lunch, with a commercial kitchen on the north side that is also used for events during non-school hours. The religious education and Scouting programs both use the school for their weekly meetings.
San Francisco de Asís School can accommodate 24 students per grade, and now has about 20 students per grade. School principal William Carroll said the building project had the positive effect of uniting the parish and the school.
“It involved the entire community — everyone was a part of it,” he said.
Carroll said that watching the bishop bless the building was exciting not only for him as the principal, but also as a parishioner who was part of the building process.
“It’s nice that we are able to appreciate the process it took for completion,” he said. “Now we can celebrate that and move on to our mission of educating Catholics.”
The school was established in 1895 and is considered the longest running school in continuation in Arizona. The school’s previous downtown location, formerly known as St. Mary’s, was built in 1955.
In 1997, San Francisco de Asís Parish brought together three parishes during a consolidation — Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church, Saint Pius X Church, and Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. The school was brought under the newly formed parish.
Anna Hoffman, parish office manager, remembers attending one of the original consolidation task force meetings with her young daughter, who is now in college.
“When I think about how far this parish has come over the past 20 years, I find this quote from St. Francis of Assisi to be very appropriate, ‘Start by doing what’s necessary, then do what’s possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible,’” Hoffman said.
The parish purchased the land atop McMillan Mesa, and then the current pastor, Father Fr.Patrick Mowrer, who arrived in 2004, headed the capital campaign and began the steady work of building the church, and the school and parish center.
During his Homily on Feb. 12, the bishop thanked Fr. Mowrer for his work and acknowledged the community for their strength during the 20-year process.
“I hope to express my gratitude to your good pastor for his strong and compassionate endurance, and for the remarkable way that you the parishioners have joined together to persevere in faith, hope and love …” Bishop Olmsted said.