21 September 2010

We have a problem...

Our Lady of the Atonement is a remarkable parish, and it occupies a unique place, not only in the Archdiocese of San Antonio, but far beyond the archdiocesan boundaries. Our parish has a leading role in the return of Anglicans to the unity of the Catholic Church. It has distinguished itself in the areas of liturgy, music, and Catholic education. Our parishioners take seriously the responsibility to support the Church’s teaching in all aspects of life, and our members are active in pro-life work, working to strengthen family life, and in caring for the homeless and hungry. Our students have forged a relationship with schools in the Holy Land, giving support through the Latin Patriarchate.

God has given a vision for this parish, and over the years we have done all we can to remain faithful to that vision. Each of us can recount stories of how God’s grace has worked in our lives through this parish, and some of the greatest evidence of God’s love and care is seen in our parish school. Every day, children’s lives are affected in wonderful ways. Their love for God is increased; their souls are formed according to the mind of Christ; their minds are opened to the knowledge and mystery of God’s universe. A new generation of Catholics is being formed through the authentic Catholic teaching they receive, through a rigorous academic program, and through the sacramental life in the school, especially the daily Mass and frequent Confession.

The Atonement Academy is sixteen years old, and already in that brief time, our school has been recognized nationally for its excellence; indeed our parish and its school is known even at the Vatican itself. Our graduates are being accepted by some of the great universities in our country, and every student is formed in a fully Catholic way.

But we have a problem – in fact, a very good problem – a problem not being faced by many other Catholic schools. We’re growing. In fact, our growth this year has exceeded that of any other school in the archdiocese. We have more students seeking entrance, than we have room to take. Parents know that the spiritual and intellectual formation we give is the best around, and they are lining up, hoping to find a place here.

The time has come, yet again, to expand our facilities. From its small beginning in 1994, The Atonement Academy now serves students from more than twenty zip codes and five counties surrounding us. In fact, the reputation of the Academy goes even beyond our borders, and we have admitted several carefully-selected international students from Mexico, Taiwan, China and the Philippines, each one contributing to our strong Catholic and classical culture.

With 552 students enrolled this academic year, our present building is at capacity. We have carefully studied our needs, and have designed a master plan which envisions an eventual student body numbering 750 in our present configuration of grades Pre-K through Twelve.

We have begun our capital campaign for the expansion, which includes three phases. Phase 1 involves the construction of nineteen new classrooms and four science labs, plus a dining hall, with all the necessary site preparations which include a new driveway, additional parking and a sky-bridge linking our existing building with the new expansion. We will continue to be one school under one roof – although certainly a very large one! Phase 2 will be a second gymnasium and locker rooms. Our present gymnasium is magnificent, but with the expanding sports program, it is difficult to find enough hours to schedule playing time for all our indoor sports teams, making an additional sports facility necessary. Phase 3 will be a performing arts center, which will give us a venue for concerts, theatrical productions and other programs which call for an auditorium setting.

Of course, we hope to raise enough funds to complete as much of this as possible and as soon as possible, but it is Phase 1 that is critically important right now. We want to be able to accept as many qualified students as we can, and that means we need more classrooms. If we can begin this phase of construction in 2011 with completion date by the summer of 2012, it will take care of our immediate requirements.

The parish has not had a capital campaign since we launched the last school expansion in 2001, nine years ago. That campaign raised two million dollars and allowed us to borrow another three million dollars which completed the church and school expansion, adding more than 83,000 square feet of space.

Our current financial position is healthy for both the church and the school. The original church, completed in 1987, and then expanded in 2003-05, is totally debt free; the St. Joseph Parish House is debt free; the St. Anthony Hall, built in 1997, is debt free. The only debt service we have presently is the school expansion (completed in 2005), and those payments are approximately $24,000 per month. We owe about 2.1 million dollars on the remaining note, at a 4.12% interest rate, and the payments will be completed in 2016. Due in part to an 11% rise in student enrollment over last year and good fiscal stewardship, the school is self-sustaining and is able to operate without a parish subsidy. In fact, the church is in a financial position to contribute $250,000 towards the Capital Campaign this academic year.

If we consider just Phase 1 of this project, the estimated cost will be as follows:

• Site prep, civil engineering and utility work: $300,000
• Architecture and Engineering:  $80,000
• Phase One (19 Classrooms, 4 labs, offices, dining hall):  $2,600,000
• Sky-bridge connector:  $180,000

Subtotal: $3,160,000
10% Contingency: $316,000

Total Estimated Completion Cost [Phase 1]: $3,476,000

Three different banks have expressed strong interest in providing financing for this project, and are offering excellent interest rates. We are confident we can secure a $1.5 million loan and be able to service that debt over a 15-year note through ongoing operations. So, we can begin this expansion after raising $2 million. Gifts and pledges have begun coming in, and we are on the way to our goal. Every gift is important, no matter what the amount. There are some who have pledged a particular amount and are giving it in monthly installments; others are giving a gift in one payment. Of course, it will take the generosity and prayers of many people, but what an investment it is – to have a part in forming young Catholics, who will be building tomorrow’s strong families, serving as priests, or giving themselves to religious life.

It was a blessed coincidence that we began this campaign on the very day when our Holy Father beatified one of the best-known Anglican converts, John Henry Cardinal Newman. Blessed John Henry Newman was a man dedicated to the cause of education, and he spent most of his life in the world of education. For that reason, we have placed this very important project under his patronage. Please join your prayers with those of Blessed John Henry Newman, asking God’s blessing upon this project and upon those whose sacrifices will make it possible.