Officials from the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese say the planned St. Michael the Archangel High School in northeast Lee’s Summit will be constructed as intended, with a target opening of the fall of 2016.
The new Catholic high school, which will be between Strother and Lee’s Summit roads, west of the Lee’s Summit Airport, has been a large part of the Forward in Faith campaign that had been promoted by Bishop Robert Finn, whose resignation was accepted Tuesday by the Vatican.
“It’s definitely still going forward,” diocesan spokesperson Jack Smith said. “(Finn) was definitely a big supporter, but so were a lot of people here.”
Steve Hilliard, director of stewardship, development and planning, said the diocese received the assurance of Archbishop Joseph Naumann during a meeting Tuesday to proceed with the project. A ceremonial groundbreaking took place May 3 last year, and Hilliard said the dirt starting moving in earnest by June 1.
Naumann will serve as interim administrator for the diocese until Pope Francis appoints Finn’s replacement.
“It’s a big project – not something you can just put down and pick back up later,” Hilliard said.
Financing will come from about $11 million in donations and $22 million in private placement bonds that are held by the bank. Of that $11 million, about $6 million is on hand in cash and pledges, and Hilliard expects to have the rest by June.
Hilliard said he knows people have talked about the possibility that Bishop Finn’s presence in the diocese, despite his misdemeanor conviction for failing to report the Rev. Shawn Ratigan for a child abuse accusation, hindered donations for the campaign, but he doesn’t expect Finn’s resignation to have much effect either way with donations.
“I also know that people we’re working with are committed to this project and the school,” Hilliard said.
When ground broke on St. Michael, the opening date had been slated for fall 2015. But the fundraising campaign ran into some delays, Hilliard said, and it took some time for the diocese to secure all the necessary right-of-ways, as part of the school property also falls in the Kansas City limits.
In the meantime, O’Hara High School will remain open for the 2015-16 school year, then close when St. Michael opens. Hilliard said teachers are being hired for next year at O’Hara with the idea that they will teach at St. Michael. O’Hara principal John O’Connor will take on the same role at St. Michael, and John Purk, a longtime dentist and a faculty member of UMKC’s School of Dentistry, will be the president and will start full-time in that capacity during the next school year.
Next year, Hilliard said, will be a transition year for the school to get comfortable with the faculty and curriculum.
The plan for St. Michael High School came from 2010 independent study commissioned by the diocese that showed a shift in the Catholic population to the Blue Springs and Lee’s Summit areas, as well as the interest for such a school to serve that area.
“We were fortunate to have purchased land right about that time,” Hilliard said, “and the area has continued to grow with infrastructure.
“It will be, without a doubt, the most beautiful high school setting in the area.”