St. Thomas School, Philo, breaks ground for Trost Learning Center, Gymnasium

Taking shovels in hand, Trost family members Jayden and Addisyn Matthis (with their mother, Heather); Dr. Sharon Weiss, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Peoria; Father Keith Walder, pastor; Lisa Doughan, principal; Dalton Carmien, Student Council president; and parish trustee Jim Deters break ground for the new Trost Learning Center and Gymnasium at St. Thomas School in Philo. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

PHILO — “Gratitude” is one of the virtues the students at St. Thomas School are focusing on this year and there was plenty to go around Sept. 13 when ground was blessed and broken for the new Trost Learning Center and Gymnasium.

Father Keith Walder, pastor, called it “a monumental day.”

“We ask God to send his Holy Spirit, to bring light to the minds of those who are working with our school plans. May the same Holy Spirit bring strength and wisdom to the hands and hearts of all who will take part in its construction,” he said as he prepared to sprinkle holy water on the construction site.

The preschool students at St. Thomas School in Philo donned “hard hats” in preparation to turn dirt at the groundbreaking ceremonies for the Trost Learning Center and Gymnasium on Sept. 13. If all goes well, they will be able to use the new facilities during the 2019-20 school year. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

“Most importantly, we ask that the students and teachers in its new classrooms and halls and gymnasium be filled with the knowledge, understanding, peace and joy that God gives us, and may they work always as disciples of Christ,” Father Walder prayed.

The ceremonial groundbreaking included Father Walder, principal Lisa Doughan, Student Council president Dalton Carmien, parish trustee Jim Deters, and Dr. Sharon Weiss, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Peoria. Also taking a turn with shovels were Jayden and Addisyn Mathis, the great-great-nephew and great-great-niece of the late Robert Trost, whose $1 million gift to his alma mater got the project started in 2015.


Wishing people to take ownership and give the school addition a solid foundation for success, Mr. Trost challenged St. Thomas parishioners and friends to raise $1 million to match his donation. During the resulting capital campaign, they contributed $1.1 million, Father Walder said.

Additional gifts from the Trost Living Trust brought the gift to $5 million, which allowed the school to expand the plan beyond a new entrance, four classrooms, administrative offices, and a work space for the teachers, to include a full gymnasium. The building, designed by Bob Kapolnek of KAP Architecture LLC, will add 24,000 square feet to the St. Thomas campus.

A member of Holy Cross in Champaign, Kapolnek also designed The High School of Saint Thomas More, the preschool building at Holy Cross, and the St. Matthew parish center and gymnasium, all in Champaign.

Gerald L. Larson and Earl Whiteoak of the Trost Living Trust in Dallas, Texas, also attended the groundbreaking ceremonies and looked over the site plan with great interest.

Whiteoak, a longtime business partner of Mr. Trost, who died Oct. 8, 2016, said it was always his friend’s wish that St. Thomas have a new gym. When the funds became available earlier this year, they were happy to make the $3 million gift and turn that dream into a reality, Larson explained.

The goal is to be in the new learning center and gym by the time classes begin for the 2018-19 school year.


Father Keith Walder, pastor, sprinkles holy water on the land that will house the new Trost Learning Center and Gymnasium at St. Thomas School in Philo during groundbreaking ceremonies on Sept. 13. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

Two of the four classrooms in the Trost Learning Center will be dedicated to the preschool, which currently enrolls 46 children who are 3, 4 and 5 years old, according to Doughan. Both classrooms have a waiting list.

The principal said she would like to consult with the teachers about how to use the other two classrooms, but thought kindergarten and first grade were possibilities.

“That will allow us to have more classroom space in the existing building for our aftercare program. I would love for them to have their own permanent space,” she said, adding that band and choir, the junior high, and the enrichment teacher could also make good use of the space.

“It’s a wonderful blessing that is amazing for a small place like St. Thomas in Philo and it ensures that we are going to be here for many years to come,” Doughan said. “We have room to grow and keep improving and getting better.”

Principal and pastor both noted the generosity that made the project possible, starting with Mr. Trost and continuing with the parishioners.

“Catholic education in Philo has been here for over a hundred years and the community just rallies behind this school,” Father Walder said. “They say the Catholic school is the heart of the parish. It truly is here at St. Thomas.”

Weiss said that as a parent and grandparent she knows what it means to be able to provide the kind of education St. Thomas can provide.

“I always say what we do matters here and in the hereafter, so thank you,” she said as she led the applause for the Trost family, school benefactors, and Doughan and her staff. “This will carry us well into eternity for each of these students who will continue to be educated at St. Thomas School. Go Tigers!”

EDITOR’S NOTE: More photos from the ceremony have been posted to The Catholic Post’s site on Facebook.

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