By Christie L. Chicoine

CS&T Staff Writer

UPPER PROVIDENCE TOWNSHIP – The completion of steel framing for the future Pope John Paul II High School on April 2 – the fourth anniversary of the pontiff’s death – marked a major milestone in the construction of the $65 million- state-of-the-art archdiocesan secondary school in central Montgomery County.

Scheduled to open in September 2010 after the consolidation of Pope Pius X High School in Pottstown and Kennedy-Kenrick Catholic High School in Norristown, the school is being built on an 84-acre tract of land in Upper Providence Township, off the Royersford exit of U.S. Highway 422.

Cardinal Justin Rigali commemorated the anniversary of the pope’s death and celebrated the construction progress Thursday, April 2, at the site of the future school.

There, the Cardinal blessed a 24-foot high cross before a crane slowly lifted it and workers carefully secured it to two steel beams on the school building, high above an area reserved for the 70-seat school chapel.

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The stately cross, made of steel and painted white, will be the focal point of the school.

“Let us pray that both future teachers and students in this new school will embrace profoundly the mystery of Christ’s cross,” Cardinal Rigali said before the blessing.

“We remember fondly Pope John Paul II – whose anniversary of death we observe today – as an example of one who embraced with great faith the cross of our Savior,” he added.

The Cardinal gave the students a brief lesson in Church history as he explained the significance of the cross affixed above their new school: “In the fourth century, the bishop of Jerusalem – St. Cyril of Jerusalem – had a magnificent statement: that the Church is very proud of all of Christ’s actions, but her greatest boast is the cross.”

Overseeing the development of the new school is its first president, Father Alan J. Okon, who is currently the president of St. Pius X and Kennedy-Kenrick.

“To have that cross raised over the building really shows the mark of our Catholic identity in this school,” Father Okon said. That “Through the Passion, death and resurrection of Christ, we obtain salvation and God’s unconditional love and mercy in our lives.”

Twenty of the new school’s future students – 10 freshmen and sophomores representing both Kennedy-Kenrick and St. Pius X – attended the Cardinal’s cross blessing ceremony.

“I can’t wait to go to the new school. It’s going to be absolutely amazing,” said Tyler Anderson, a sophomore at St. Pius X.

Julia Santora, a sophomore at Kennedy-Kenrick, said she was awestruck as the cross was affixed to her new school.

“It was nice to be a part of history for the new school,” added Tyler Greco, a freshman at Kennedy-Kenrick.

Two steel beams signed by the freshmen and sophomore classes of both schools were displayed as a demonstration of the collaboration of the two school communities.

Donning hard hats, the curious students received a tour of their future school from Father Okon. Seeing the space reserved for the 1,200-seat auditorium was a highlight for Alyssa Reape, a sophomore at St. Pius X. A member of her school’s drama club, she can’t wait to perform on the stage of the new school which, on the day of the tour, was carved in the ground.

Also attending the blessing ceremony were numerous diocesan officials, including Richard McCarron, secretary for Catholic education; Msgr. Arthur E. Rodgers, vicar for Montgomery County; school board members and administrators from both schools; elected officials; civic leaders; and benefactors.

Among the many workers on site was Joe Donofrio, 48, a masonry foreman who belongs to St. Robert Bellarmine Parish in Warrington, Bucks County.

As the cross was raised, “It almost brought me to tears,” Dono-frio said. “I was like a kid at Christmas.”

His crew is building two brick courtyards that will be dedicated to the consolidated schools – one for Kennedy-Kenrick High, the other for St. Pius X High. Brickwork on the first courtyard is complete, and work on the second has already begun. Brickwork has also begun on the exterior wall of one classroom.

Before Donofrio begins his work at the construction site, he prays a prayer he custom-made for the project.

“I can’t wait to say, ‘I helped build Pope John Paul II High School’ – a high school that bears the name of one of my heroes,” Donofrio said.

Before the steelwork was placed, foundation work began and a large retaining wall was constructed. While the front half of the school is one level, the retaining wall allows for two levels in the back half of the building.

Work continues on the installation of the roof, sprinkler system, electrical system, piping for the heating and air-conditioning systems as well as wiring for fire alarms, security systems, computer networks and telephone lines.

The grading of an all-weather running track is complete, as is the grading and seeding of six sports fields.

Window installation is scheduled to begin later this month.

At 209,000 square feet, Pope John Paul II High, located at the intersection of Rittenhouse and Township Line Roads, will have a capacity for 1,200 students with the potential for more.

The school will also feature 29 classrooms including two equipped for remote distance learning, five science laboratories, three computer laboratories and a library-media resource center. In addition, there will be a television studio, a fine arts center with two art studios and choral-band rooms, central air-conditioning, modern security access and surveillance systems, a 432-seat cafeteria, a 1,000-seat main gymnasium, an auxiliary gymnasium and a fitness center.

For more information about the new high school, visit the web site

CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at (215) 587-2468 or

Project PJP II Prayer

Lord, thank you for the adversity in our lives,
for overcoming these trials has made us stronger and closer to you, Lord.
Lord, thank you for a perfect parcel of land to erect a place of learning and prayer for your children.
Lord, thank you for the priests, nuns and teachers who enlighten your children.
Lord, thank you for the architects and engineers and their visions coming to fruition.
Lord, thank you for our project managers and superintendents – turn their worries into answered prayers.
Lord, thank you for the men and women in the field. Guide their hands, Lord, to ensure a quality job.
Lord, thank you for the opportunity to have some small part in keeping the Holy Spirit in the hearts of all who are associated with this project.

– Joe Donofrio, masonry foreman, Pope John Paul II High School