Bishop Ireton breaks ground for new wing

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Bishop Ireton High School in Alexandria broke ground Sept. 18 on its new wing — a 40,000-square-foot building that will include a library, science labs and a cafeteria. Bishop Michael F. Burbidge blessed the site — a lot of cleared earth next to the existing school building.

He prayed, “All merciful Father, you have created all things through your son and have made him the unshakable foundation of your kingdom. Through the gift of your eternal wisdom, grant that the undertaking we begin today for your glory and our own wellbeing may progress day by day to its successful completion.”

Head of School Tom Curry welcomed students, alumni, faculty, and community members, including Father Thomas P. Ferguson, vicar general and Ireton graduate, and Alexandria Mayor Allison Silberberg. The majority of the student body watched the groundbreaking via livestream from the auditorium. Curry recounted the history of the high school, which opened in 1964. 

“In the late 1950s, the pastors of six nearby parishes had an ambitious plan: to serve the Catholic population of Alexandria by building a high school for boys, something they believed Catholic families dearly deserved and needed,” he said. “To purchase this land and to build the structure would require $1 million in the early 1960s. 

“Today, inspired by that same life-giving spirit, we embark on a 21st century version of their vision. To fund that bold ambition is going to cost more than 20 times that,” said Curry. “Today, we launch the Future Is Now Capital Campaign for Bishop Ireton High School. We need to raise a minimum of $6.5 million.”

Jennifer Bigelow, diocesan superintendent of schools, felt she is blessed among school leaders. “I'm so excited to be joining you as we begin the next chapter in the rich story of Bishop Ireton High School,” she said. “I’m so privileged to be part of a groundbreaking ceremony — that does not happen in every diocese in this country. We are truly fortunate.”

She detailed the many changes that the new wing and subsequent renovations will bring to the community, including space for more students. The new wing will have science labs, a library, an AV studio and a much larger dining hall, she said.

“The (new) courtyard will include patio seating and a garden that connects to the St. Francis de Sales chapel and the campus ministry center,” said Bigelow. “Also planned are several renovations to the existing interior — more classrooms, art studios, an alumni center, teacher workspaces and a repositioned school store. (There will be) a new auxiliary gym, a fitness and weight room, a space for training and physical therapy, and new locker rooms.”

At the close of the ceremony, members of the school community donned red hard hats and shoveled a little dirt, officially breaking ground on the building project. The structure is scheduled to be completed next fall. 

Ron Umbeck, the longest-serving teacher in the diocese, remembers what the school was like when he began teaching math there 52 years ago. From the construction site, he could point to the corner room where he taught geometry to 47 sophomore boys. “It’s been my life. I’ve grown up here.”

Michael Bennett was one of two donors who gave the two largest gifts in the entire school’s history, said Curry. Bennett, his three daughters and his granddaughter all graduated from Ireton — the first three-generation alumni family. 

“I grew up on Route 1 in Alexandria and the Oblates saved my life,” Bennett said. “Father McNally told me that I was going down the wrong road, that I had so much promise. He showed me how good I was in math. I always liked accounting and he pushed me that way and I’m a CFO today.”

As a member of the board of governors for the school, Bennett was grateful to witness the occasion. “(This was) a lot of hard work with construction people, raising money, working with the diocese,” he said. “To bring this all together and then to see everybody here today, it made me cry.”

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