AVONDALE — Families and community leaders were among those gathered on a windswept dirt lot Jan. 27 to witness the groundbreaking for the newest Catholic high school in the Diocese of Phoenix.

St. John Paul II Catholic High School, slated to open for the 2018 academic year, will be built beside St. Thomas Aquinas Parish. The far-west Valley is one of the fastest growing areas in the state and while it boasts Catholic elementary schools, there hasn’t been a Catholic high school nearby. Until now.

Dan De Battista, who substitute teaches at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School, where two of his grandchildren attend, was excited. He’s hoping they will one day attend the new Catholic high school. He said he’s taught in public schools and the difference in settings was huge.

“It’s a gift for this area — it’s a gift from God to be able to have this,” De Battista said.

Bernard Capulong, a St. Thomas Aquinas parishioner, said he sent his daughters to St. Mary’s High School to obtain a Catholic education — a long drive for the Avondale family. “Now with this school here, it’s going to build our faith even stronger out here.”

With three bulldozers — one of them bearing a large rendering of what the new school will look like — and more than a dozen ceremonial shovels as the backdrop, Fr. Fred Adamson, vicar general and moderator of the Curia, addressed the crowd, “We are extremely blessed to be here today marking an incredible milestone.”

Fr. Fred Adamson, vicar general and moderator of the Curia, addressed the crowd who came from the West Valley and beyond to witness the Jan. 27 groundbreaking of the diocese’s sixth high school. (Billy Hardiman/CATHOLIC SUN)

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Students from St. John Vianney and St. Thomas Aquinas schools led prayers in both English and Spanish.

Jacob Hiler prayed that the new Catholic high school would be “a place for many to encounter Jesus Christ, the true light that enlightens everyone.”

MaryBeth Mueller, superintendent for the Diocese of Phoenix, talks to West Valley parish, school and community leaders who have expressed interest in supporting and attending a Catholic high school in the West area. (Billy Hardiman/CATHOLIC SUN)

MaryBeth Mueller, superintendent of Catholic schools, said diocesan leadership knew the faithful of the West Valley were “hungry for the gift of a Christ-centered education” and that God had chosen this moment in time for that dream to finally come true. “The future begins today, and [that] future is so bright,” Mueller said.

Sr. Mary Jordan Hoover, OP, principal of St. John Paul II Catholic High School, noted the singularity of the groundbreaking. “In most cities in our nation, Catholic schools are being closed or consolidated.” By contrast, the Phoenix Diocese is opening a new Catholic high school to serve future generations.

“Students who attend St. John Paul II High School will be given an education that is rooted in Jesus Christ,” Sr. Mary Jordan said. “One day, they will demonstrate Christian leadership in all sectors of society, making an impact on this community and the world.”

(Billy Hardiman/CATHOLIC SUN)

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, who spent 16 years living in Rome where he was deeply influenced by the leadership of St. John Paul II, spoke of the patron saint of the diocese’s forthcoming school.

St. John Paul II came to the papacy Bishop Olmsted said, with a “firm conviction that young people have a pivotal role to fill in the life of the Church.” His oft-repeated phrase, “Be not afraid,” found particular resonance among the young, the bishop added.

St. John Paul II Catholic High School will “equip our young people to fulfill their irreplaceable role in the Church and in the world as witnesses to Jesus Christ.” It will also fulfill the mission of a Catholic school, which “exists to provide the gift of Christ-centered education, where the love of God is alive and the pursuit of goodness, truth and beauty is witnessed to in every aspect of education.”

The ceremonial shovelful of dirt took place after the bishop’s remarks. Alongside diocesan officials and community leaders, students from local Catholic elementary schools sang hymns. Some had their opportunity to dig into the dusty ground with the shiny shovels.

Gilliana Salazar, a St. John Vianney eighth-grader, said she’s planning to attend Xavier College Preparatory in the fall but will transfer to St. John Paul II once it opens. “I think it’s really nice that they’re going to build a new community here where it’s closer and we can still continue our Catholic education,” Salazar said.