Peoria Notre Dame breaks ground for new campus complex

Photo Caption: Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, blesses the 71.5-acre site for a new Peoria Notre Dame High School during groundbreaking ceremonies on Sept. 28. The first phase will be a unified athletic complex.

By: By Tom Dermody

With prayers, gratitude, and several chants of “Go Irish!,” a field of Catholic high school dreams was blessed in Peoria on Sept. 28.

As several land-moving vehicles continued their grading work in the distance, Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, led official groundbreaking ceremonies at the site that will be developed into a new campus complex for Peoria Notre Dame High School.

“I have every confidence that with all of your help, with your commitment, and with all of your faith, the Lord will build this house,” said Bishop Jenky to a crowd assembled beneath a tent erected on the 71.5 acres of land being prepared for construction near the corner of Willow Knolls and Allen roads in Peoria.

After joining dignitaries turning the earth with golden shovels, Bishop Jenky hopped onto an off-road vehicle to bless the entire field with holy water.

The new school project has been divided into phases, with the first being a unified athletic complex for Peoria Notre Dame programs. Included will be a stadium for football, soccer, and track featuring synthetic turf and seating for at least 3,000. Plans also call for two baseball fields and two softball fields with lighting, tennis courts, practice soccer and football fields, as well as concession areas, locker rooms, and parking.

The $10 million athletic complex is expected to be completed in early 2014.
Charlie Roy, principal, noted that this spring Peoria Notre Dame will begin the celebration of 150 years of Catholic secondary education in the city.

“It’s great excitement for our faculty, our staff, our students and our community to put shovels in the ground and start to prepare for the next 150 years of Catholic education,” he told the crowd.

Roy pointed out that for the first time in that long, storied history — which embraces traditions of the former Academy of Our Lady, Spalding Institute, and Bergan High School — “we look forward to having all of our facilities in one place, at one site.” The new athletic complex, he said, will finally give the Irish “a true home field advantage.”

Pat Wille, student president, called the site “the field of dreams” and noted that “through athletics students learn how to achieve success and failure, how to work together, and how to deal with adversity.” While noting he will always cherish the school’s current facility at 5105 N. Sheridan Road, Wille ended his remarks by adapting a line made famous by the “Field of Dreams” baseball movie.

“We look forward to glorifying God through athletic events here and we thank him for all the blessings he has bestowed on us,” said Willi. “If you build it, He will come.”

Speakers including Msgr. Mark Merdian, new president of Peoria Notre Dame, repeatedly expressed gratitude for the efforts of the school’s leadership team, board of directors, pastors’ board, benefactors and supporters, and all who have been involved in fundraising and planning for the new school.

“There have been many who have brought us to this day,” acknowledged Tom Hornstein, board of directors chair. He singled out the “courageous leadership and resolute determination” of two individuals: Msgr. William Watson, president emeritus of Peoria Notre Dame, and Don Western, former chairman of the board.

Mike Cullinan, chair of the leadership team, urged continuing support so all phases of construction leading to the complete new school can be completed swiftly.

“As young kids are coming up through the grade school system we want to make sure they have the vision of attending out here and have the whole package complete,” said Cullinan.

Jim Ardis, mayor of Peoria, offered the city’s congratulations. Pointing out other Catholic building projects underway in the city including the new Family Resources Center and a new school for St. Jude Parish, he said it is “exciting that during these difficult times we see all this dirt being moved.”

On a side note, Mayor Ardis also offered strong support for Bishop Jenky’s “unwavering strength” in defending religious liberty in the face of threats such as the Obama administration’s HHS mandate, acknowledging that “our faith is being challenged.”

Bishop Jenky, meanwhile, wore a blue and gold stole that was presented to him during the sesquicentennial celebration of “another Notre Dame school — in northern Indiana.” Prior to being appointed as Bishop of Peoria, Bishop Jenky spent much of his priesthood at the University of Notre Dame, including as rector of Sacred Heart Church for 20 years.

He said both the university and Peoria Notre Dame “really represent the same thing: a commitment to excellence in education, a commitment to service to the community, and a commitment to excellence in sports.”

“But most of all,” said Bishop Jenky, “this Notre Dame and that Notre Dame exist so people will draw closer to Christ, will live their faith at every stage of their lives, and will witness to the Gospel.”

He reminded all that Notre Dame means “Our Lady” and the school honors the Mary, “the mother of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.”

“Knowing that she prays with us and for us, we will succeed,” said Bishop Jenky.

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