As older students at St. Rose of Lima School in De Soto enjoyed recess on the adjoining playground, parish pastor Father Alex Anderson gave a quick tour of the fenced-in construction zone next to the school.
With just the footings and forms tracing the new building's perimeter, he pointed out the coming attractions at St. Rose Hall: the stage, the kitchen and the 40-foot-by-80-foot open area at the heart of the building — a mini-gymnasium for physical-education classes, sports practices and recess, as well parish functions.
The "very, very simple building," as Father Anderson calls it, will fill these needs, which have existed for about six decades; the 1929-vintage school hasn't had its own multi-use space since 1957, when the third-floor auditorium was converted into classrooms. The gymnasium at the nearby Knights of Columbus Hall has served as home court for games and practices and hosted parish functions, but otherwise the cafeteria was home for indoor activities.
The Knights of Columbus "have been generous, more than generous," said Father Anderson, noting that sporting events and bigger parish events will continue being held there. "But we were limited here; we didn't have any place when it was winter for P.E., recess and things like that."
The school has improvised in winter and on rainy days, using the cafeteria instead of the playground.
"We just move aside four or five tables," principal Mike Talleur said.
Father Anderson credits Talleur with the school's increasing enrollment. With 101 students pre-school through eighth grade, enrollment has topped 100 for the first time in Father Anderson's pastorship, now in its 10th year. Enrollment was only 69 before Talleur's arrival five years ago.
"He brings a stability and confidence," Father Anderson said. "We'll never be huge, but (enrollment) is a hopeful thing here."
For his part, Talleur credits Father Anderson with the increase in enrollment, which goes hand-in-hand with beautification projects around the school and the parish, mostly small scale — a statue here, a shrine there. There's no mistaking Catholic identity at St. Rose of Lima.
"Parents know faith is important here and they know their children will get a good Catholic education; that's why they send them here," he said, adding, "We're kind of bringing them back. We have their confidence, and with this building, they know we're going to be here."
Slashing tuition also has been an important factor: Tuition had been $5,500 but has been cut to a max of $3,500 per family, with assistance as needed.
St. Rose Hall serves a tangible sign of the intangible: the health of the school and the thriving nature of the parish, which boasts three men in diaconate formation. Until St. Rose Hall, the largest project at the parish was tearing down the rectory for a parking lot to make the church — dedicated in 1885 — handicap accessible. That project also included the conversion of the former convent for the Ursuline Sisters into a rectory. Ironically, the current building project is the first since 1962, when both the convent and rectory were built.
Neither Father Anderson nor Talleur is a stranger to parish and school construction. As pastor at Most Sacred Heart, Father Anderson spearheaded the $7 million construction of the church and two school additions. Talleur came on board for the addition of two classrooms and a library.
"That was $1.3 million; I think we're more excited about this one than that one," Talleur said, with a laugh.
The price tag for St. Rose Hall is $300,000, with a donor contributing $170,000 and the parish adding $130,000 from gifts and cash on hand. The only capital campaign is to finish and furnish the inside of the building — $50,000.
However, St. Rose of Lima students don't see dollar signs; that's for adults. They only see St. Rose Hall rising where part of the playground used to be. After turning shovels for the groundbreaking Aug. 30, they have watched cool things such as heavy equipment digging a hole and moving dirt, the arrival of steel girders and concrete blocks and workmen putting the puzzle together.
"They love watching the construction out the window," Father Anderson said, with a smile.