Notre Dame Prep breaks ground for arts facility to match its award-winning talent

SCOTTSDALE — A school that already has 20-some national theater arts awards to its credit will soon have an official theater in which to perform.

The Notre Dame Preparatory community broke ground for the St. Catherine of Bologna Performing Arts Center — named for an Italian nun, artist and musician — Nov. 5. Jill Platt, principal, said it marks the start of a more vibrant campus with facilities to match students’ capabilities.

The center will house four performing arts classrooms, a recording studio for digital media students and a 300-seat theater. Actors, musicians, singers and dancers have been performing in the “cafetorium” since the school opened in 2002.

Guests at the groundbreaking — both in person and via a livestream for students in class — got a glimpse of what the venue will look and sound like. Not only did the school’s guitar orchestra and honors choir perform, but a sketched and photographic rendering of the 21,000-square-foot building sat near the golden shovels that had key people breaking ground between the cafeteria and gymnasium.

Several guest speakers reminded the Notre Dame community of the importance of performing arts. Harry Plummer, superintendent for the Diocese of Phoenix Schools Office, kicked things off with a quote form Shakespeare’s Henry V: “Now sets expectation in the air.” He encouraged the crowd to consider what God expects of students and Notre Dame. He acknowledged the “undeniable pressure” from society to excel in S.T.E.M. endeavors but assured that won’t happen at the expense of the faith.

“Performing arts helps students come alive. The arts advances so many of the skills that we support in our educational program,” Plummer said. He noted among them: collaboration, the value of study and hard work, creativity/imagination and individual reflection/how to receive feedback.

Bennett Curran, a Notre Dame junior, knows all too well the value of performing arts. If the center opens before he graduates, Curran will spend quite a bit of time there. He anchors “NDP Live” — the school’s newscast — sings in the choir, plays in the guitar orchestra and acts — including a national award for his role as Donkey in “Shrek.”

He acted before coming to Notre Dame, but picked up the guitar as a “Saint.” He watches freshmen quickly settle into the fine arts family. Students take four semesters of art classes.

“It’s a great value to the community in general. There’s no performing arts center like this nearby,” Curran said.

The performing arts venue wouldn’t be getting off the ground so quickly if it weren’t for the work of the capital campaign executive committee and the Pitre Family Foundation. Dorothy Pitre’s family foundation donated $2.5 million toward the campaign, but her eagerness to see the first show lies much deeper. Musical abilities run in the family — in addition to Pitre picking up both the oboe and tenor saxophone after a decade of piano lessons, she pointed to her dad and sister as the musicians.

Helping the Church finish projects is another passion. A matching grant opportunity through an unnamed foundation runs through Dec. 1.

Platt, the principal, called the arts a critical part of developing the whole person. She cited St. John Paul II’s letter two artists written just 20 years ago: “Artists of the world, may your many different paths all lead to that infinite ocean of beauty where wonder becomes awe, exhilaration and unspeakable joy” (Letter to Artists, 16).

Those are feelings human nature seeks as it searches for truth, love, beauty and freedom, said Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted. That unspeakable joy, the journey toward redemption, is the reason for hope. Always be willing to give it, he said. “Catholic education prepares you to be able to do that in a particular way and to express it through words and through gestures and through action, but in a particular way, to embody it, through your attitudes and in your own life.”