Parishioners and students of St. Paul the Apostle Church and School in Westwood overflowed the pews during a morning Mass Sept. 7 to celebrate the blessing and dedication of the parish’s newly-completed learning center and gymnasium, which added 35,000 square feet of state-of-the-art school facilities.

The $25 million construction project, which was completed on schedule in 14 months and replaces the school’s former 10,000-square-foot middle school building, consists of two new buildings — the McCarthy Family Gymnasium and the Hilton Learning Center — which collectively house a media center and library, classrooms, music rooms, language lab, conference room, office space and more.

During Mass, Our Lady of the Angels Auxiliary Bishop Edward Clark and Paulist Father John Ardis, pastor of St. Paul the Apostle, expressed their gratitude to everyone involved in bringing the project to fruition, from dedicated parish families and school faculty, to generous charitable foundations, including the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, which donated $10.5 million, the Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Foundation, and the Caruso Family Foundation.

“In thanking them we thank all of the countless people who sat on boards, who raised money, who had vision, who reached out and made this day possible,” said Bishop Clark. “This school is truly a place where [students] will learn about Jesus.”

Following the Mass, members of the parish community gathered in the schoolyard outside the new gymnasium for a ribbon-cutting ceremony. After the outdoor dedication, Bishop Clark and Father Ardis went inside the new buildings to bless the individual classrooms and offices, and parishioners of all ages toured the updated facilities before heading to the parish hall for a reception.

Daughters of Mary and Joseph Sister Stella Marie Enright, former principal of St. Paul’s School, where she has worked for 47 years, believes the power of daily prayers by St. Paul students played a very real role in bringing the vision to life.

“There were a lot of people who helped,” she noted. “This project was made possible because of a lot of physical materials and monetary support, but it became [a reality] because of the spiritual power of the prayers of the children.”

For AlicéPalermo, along-time parishioner and current president of the school’s Parents Working for Children (PWC) organization, finally seeing the completed construction was “heartwarming — and it just made everything all worthwhile.”

“The kids were in awe the first morning [of school on Sept. 2]; it’s just so beautiful,” said Palermo, who has two children currently enrolled at St. Paul’s.

“The people of this community really came together to work for this cause, for the school and the parish, and they put in a lot of time and effort,” added Palermo, who assisted with the multi-year fundraising endeavor for the project. “No one ever complained; they’re just happy to be a part of this parish family.”

Since it was first established by the Paulist Fathers and the Daughters of Mary and Joseph in 1935, St. Paul the Apostle School has grown significantly, and currently serves 540 students in grades K-8. The school’s curriculum has also been expanded to include music, physical education, art literacy and more, and the newly-updated facilities are expected to help the school keep pace with evolving technology and educational goals for all students, said Sister Enright.

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