‘We’re breaking ground for you’: Major project at St. Bede Academy under way

Before ground was broken at St. Bede Academy, students in each class were blessed with holy water and incense by Father Ronald Margherio, OSB, chaplain. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

PERU — Looking at the construction crew and equipment already hard at work at St. Bede Academy, Abbot Philip Davey, OSB, acknowledged that ground had already been broken for the new Science Center and Student Commons.

“Perhaps you’ve noticed,” he said, with a smile.

“But none of you were here. Since we’re breaking ground for you, we thought you ought to be able to share in this,” he told the students, who gathered between St. Bede Academy and the Worship Assembly Building, for a ceremonial groundbreaking Aug. 23. It came during Spirit Week and included a blessing for each class, as well as for the faculty and staff.

Matt McGinnis, Eve Postula and John O’Reilly laugh as Mackenzie Brady tosses a patch of dirt during the groundbreaking ceremony Aug. 23. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

In his opening prayer, Abbot Philip recalled the words of Psalm 127: “If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do its builders labor.”

“God has entrusted us with the task of helping our students grow in knowledge and wisdom and faith so you can serve one another and build up God’s kingdom. In our service to one another, we are coworkers with God,” he continued. “May God bless all who work here with the knowledge and skill to build this Science Center and may God protect them from any injury or harm.”

Turning dirt for the official start of the 16,000-square-foot project were Mackenzie Brady, a senior at St. Bede and Student Government president; Matt McGinnis, chairman of the Legacy Project Campaign; John O’Reilly, a member of the Class of 1961, which has provided leadership and raised $515,000 for the campaign; and Eve Postula, treasurer of St. Bede. Postula didn’t know she would be participating until Abbot Philip called her forward.

The Science Center will include three state-of-the art laboratories for education in physics, biology and chemistry, and a collaborative lab to support STEM-related courses. There will also be a fully equipped outdoor classroom.

The Student Commons will feature 1,500 square feet of space for students to work independently or in small groups, or for teachers to bring classes together. The furniture can be moved to accommodate these activities and will make it “just a comfortable area for kids to go,” according to Dr. Ted Struck, superintendent of St. Bede Academy.

“We don’t aspire to have good high school facilities,” he said. “We want to give them a taste of what they’re going to walk into when they leave. This is, literally, a university-level science addition and commons area.”


Even though the seniors won’t be able to use the new facilities, Brady said she and her classmates are excited for the opportunities that await the underclassmen and “incoming Bruins.”

“This new addition will create a teaching and learning environment that will propel our programs forward and better prepare our students for the next phase of their lives,” she said. “This STEM lab will be an incubator for the future leaders of tomorrow.”

On behalf of the student body, Brady thanked Abbot Philip and St. Bede Abbey, Struck and the school administration and staff, and the generous donors who made the $5.5 million project possible.

Senior Daryl Senica leads classmates in procession around St. Bede Academy to the site where the ceremonial blessing would take place Aug. 23. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

“The future is very bright at St. Bede,” she said.

As he and Abbot Philip have traveled around the country to talk about the Legacy Project with alumni and friends of St. Bede, McGinnis said they’ve most often heard about how the school prepared those men and women for college and post-graduate studies, military service and the world of work, and life in general.

“It often took a few years of being out in the world, their work place, their parishes and in their communities to truly understand and appreciate the impact St. Bede had on them, the values that were instilled here, and the lessons they learned from our monks, teachers, coaches and each other,” McGinnis said.

But he and Abbot Philip also brought them news about the current students and how impressive they are.

“You are polite. You wear uniforms. You do hundreds of hours of community service. You are always experimenting,” McGinnis told the students. “You play hard as Bruins and you participate in all kinds of clubs. You support each other. You challenge each other. You honor our traditions and have started new ones.”

Most importantly, he said, “We are assured and encouraged by you. We believe in you.”

That is why alumni and friends are giving back to St. Bede in order to provide a competitive and modern education for the current students, McGinnis said.

Among those alumni are the members of the Class of 1961, several of whom were present for the groundbreaking. Speaking for them was “shepherd” John O’Reilly.

“It gives us great pride today to see this project begin to take shape,” he said, noting that he and his classmates knew the improvements included in the Legacy Project were a necessity. They achieved their goal of raising $500,000 for it last year and have kept going.

“I hope your stay at St. Bede will be as enlightening an experience as it was for us,” O’Reilly told the students. “It’s been a four-year experience that has lasted a lifetime.”


The site for the new Science Center and Student Commons was blessed June 14 and it’s been a busy summer, according to McGinnis.

He told The Catholic Post that utilities were put in place and a new stair tower has been erected at the school. As of Aug. 23, Vissering Construction Company of Streator and JB Contracting Corp. of LaSalle were working to pour concrete for the foundation and planned to start construction on the addition shortly.

“They’ve been wonderful partners, very cooperative, and they understand the busy-ness of a high school campus during summer and now that the students are back,” McGinnis said of the builders. “So we really thank them for being so understanding and supportive.”

If all goes as planned, construction will be completed by next May.

In the meantime, students will be studying the building process. Principal Michelle Mershon said science teachers at St. Bede are looking for ways to partner with the builders to identify practical applications of science and engineering that will serve as real-time lessons.

“Life for a student at St. Bede will be anything but textbook this school year,” Struck said.

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