Hundreds of parishioners and students of St. Paul the Apostle Church and School in Westwood gathered the morning of June 5 for a long-anticipated celebration: the official groundbreaking ceremony to launch the parish’s $25 million construction project, which will add 35,000 square feet of state-of-the-art school facilities over the next 14 months.After a celebratory Mass, blessing and groundbreaking took place in the schoolyard on the site of the planned construction, which will replace the school’s existing 10,000-square-foot middle school building. Upon completion, the new two-story building will house a learning center, gymnasium, media center and library, music rooms, language lab, classrooms, conference room and more.In his homily, Our Lady of the Angels Auxiliary Bishop Edward Clark described the groundbreaking as a moment of “great excitement” for the entire parish community. But, he urged those present to always remember that the “most important part” of the new school building will be found inside: the teachers, students, staff members, volunteers, parents and the parishioners.“Without those people, it would just be four walls with a roof and a foundation. It would have no life, it would be empty,” said Bishop Clark. “Never forget that it is you, and those who will come after you, who are going to turn this building into [a place] where all students will always be welcomed.”During the outdoor ceremony, Paulist Father John Ardis, St. Paul the Apostle pastor, expressed his gratitude to everyone involved in the fundraising campaign, building planning, architectural design and all aspects of the project. He offered particular thanks to: Daughters of Mary and Joseph Sister Stella Marie Enright, principal of St. Paul’s School, where she has worked for 46 years; Kathleen McCarthy-Kostlan, parishioner and campaign co-chair for the project; and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, which donated $10.5 million.Since it was established in 1935 by the Paulist Fathers and the Daughters of Mary and Joseph, St. Paul the Apostle School has expanded from six classrooms to 16, and currently serves 540 students in grades K-8. The school’s core curriculum has likewise expanded to include music, foreign language, physical education, art literacy and more to “educate and develop the whole child, mentally, physically, spiritually and socially,” said Sister Enright. Additional up-to-date classroom facilities will help the school keep pace with current technology and evolving educational criteria and goals for the entire student body. “Today is a very exciting day; it’s the fulfillment of a dream,” said Sister Enright, who praised the entire parish community for helping the school realize this dream. “This is a really strong community project — not just one person — and we’ve had wonderful support.”Long-time parishioners Lisa and Johnny Lopez, who have three children currently enrolled at St. Paul’s School, agreed.“This was a definite community effort,” said Lisa, who with Johnny represented school families in the groundbreaking ritual. “Today I think everyone is elated and hopeful, and looking forward to what’s [ahead].”“This has been a tremendous effort by the entire community,” added Johnny. “Sister Stella has worked so hard and she’s such a beacon for this community, and we’re all thrilled that she gets to take part in this marvelous construction. Many generations are going to benefit from it.”Newly-ordained (on June 8) Deacon Danny Amos, a parishioner at St. Paul’s for more than 30 years who sent three children to the school, described the project as “a new beginning, not only for St. Paul’s, but also for the Catholic Church.”“We have a new direction in the Church — we’ve seen that with our new pope — and what’s going to be happening here at St. Paul’s is following that same direction,” said Amos, whose wife Stacey has worked as a teacher at St. Paul’s School for seven years. “I’m very excited for the future.”Belinda Folsey, who attended St. Paul the Apostle School in the 1950s, is excited as well.“I think it’s fantastic,” she said. “This is a wonderful community; it’s so warm and supportive, and it’s great that it has visions to expand and grow. I’m very happy my granddaughter is in school here.”{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/0614/groundbreak/{/gallery}