The new facade of Ss. Simon and Jude School is seen from the cathedral parking lot on its dedication day Dec. 8. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

Ss. Simon and Jude School knows how to age with grace.

A 10-year, four-phase capital campaign for campus improvements has built on and rejuvenated a 60-something-year-old school. The finishing touch clearly honors the five Loreto Sisters who established the elementary school and salutes the 13 who lovingly remain part of school tradition.

In short, it’s now crystal clear that Ss. Simon and Jude is “Home of the Irish.” A newly-erected facade and entry archway symbolically declare it so. “Céad míle fáilte,” which means “A 100,000 Welcomes” in Gaelic, hangs on one side. On the opposite side, a new second floor addition to an existing building proudly proclaims it as the Mary Ward Center in honor of the Irish order’s 16th-century founder.

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A Celtic cross atop the archway is the crowning jewel. All 476 students eagerly processed underneath it after Mass Dec. 8 to participate in a long-awaited dedication ceremony.

Nearly 700 people supported the more than $8 million “Proud of Our Past — Committed to Our Future” initiative. The latest $2.5 million phase brought Ss. Simon and Jude up to code, so to speak, when it came to campus safety in the 21st century. It closed off all but one school entry and carved out the school’s name in that pillared facade.

The project’s final phase also created the school’s first standalone art room, foreign language lab and advanced math classroom. A fourth multi-purpose room can hold small retreats and such.

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“This is a sign of great, great commitment to Catholic education and especially a great commitment for the Sisters of Loreto,” Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted said during a brief blessing ceremony inside the courtyard.

A student representative from each grade led a prayer of gratitude for the crowd while a twin group followed the bishop as he blessed the Mary Ward Center’s new upper floor and the remodeled bottom floor. The latter now houses the entire administration.

“This will be the first time in 63 years that we’ve all been in the same place under one roof,” May Jo Wahlers told The Catholic Sun a few days before moving in.

She recalled her days — four years to be exact — working out of a space that was once a sacristy. Wahlers and three others worked there without heat or air conditioning. A counselor’s office was an oversized closet.

“We feel we’ve shaved a lot of years out of purgatory when we were in there,” Wahlers quipped.

The main reason Ss. Simon and Jude embarked on the campaign, however, was for the students. They needed dedicated classroom space and a secure campus entrance. Earlier phases remodeled existing rooms, added a gymnasium and upgraded the computer lab and library.

Several eighth-graders opened a gratitude assembly following the blessing with a re-enactment of the conversations that brought the Loreto Sisters to Phoenix and ultimately launched the school’s latest construction. They explained how Kelly McKone, a 1974 graduate, met Msgr. Michael O’Grady at a local diner with a mustard seed of a dream.

McKone got a bit emotional when he arrived for the dedication, especially to see the Celtic cross outside.

“The Loreto sisters not only taught me, but raised me and helped my parents to raise me,” McKone said during brief remarks.

Sr. Raphael Quinn, IBVM, principal, also felt the grace of the day.

“I’m a bit overwhelmed at what we’ve accomplished in the last 10 or 11 years,” she said.

The students were flat out ecstatic. They begged — and received — permission to celebrate by dancing, launching confetti streamers over fellow students and filling gym walls with creative, handmade posters for key people instrumental in making opening day a reality.

“I feel we all needed a little pep because school has been a little crazy, lots of work getting done before Christmas break,” said eighth-grader Megan McNair. She is in her sixth year at the school, but has grown up at the cathedral.

Emily Stalzer came to Ss. Simon and Jude in first grade and graduates in May.

“I really like the new classroom we have, especially for Spanish because we don’t have to walk across campus,” she said. The music room was once outside of campus too, but is now within its secure gates.

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