While things were gloomy and rainy outside on June 19, the atmosphere was sunny inside the gym at Saint Agnes School in St. Paul, where students, parents, teachers and other supporters gathered to celebrate an announcement made by staff member Jean Houghton, director of constituent relations. She told the crowd that a gift of more than $10 million had been made to the school by John Nasseff and his wife, Helene Houle. That gift, and other donations, will be used to build a $16.7 million Student Activities Center, scheduled for completion in the fall of 2015.
The donation by Nasseff and Houle is believed to be one of the largest ever to a school in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. The two were unable to make it to the event, which featured remarks by Bishop Andrew Cozzens, Father Mark Moriarty, superintendent and pastor of Saint Agnes parish, James Morehead, principal, and Jean Houghton, director of constituent relations.
The new activities center will be located where the current high school gymnasium (Bandas Hall) resides. It will include an auditorium that seats more than 400, upgraded performing and fine arts spaces, additional classrooms, an expanded gymnasium and a student commons area that will connect the two primary buildings on campus. The school is finalizing alternative locations for some of the 2014-15 activities while construction is underway.
“We believe in the value of Catholic education, and the leadership and vision of Saint Agnes School,” Nasseff said. “We specifically wanted to make this gift in honor of our friend, Father John Ubel [former Superintendent and pastor who now is rector of the Cathedral of St. Paul], for all that he has done for the school.”
In 2007, declining enrollment and financial challenges forced Saint Agnes to consider closing its doors. At that time, Nasseff and Houle, along with more than 1,000 alumni and friends, stepped forward to assist. Seven years later, the school has seen a cumulative growth in enrollment of more than 40 percent, has been recognized as one of the top 50 Catholic high schools in the nation, and is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year.
“We could not be more grateful for this new activities center,” Father Moriarty said. “We believe in a well-rounded experience for our students at Saint Agnes — forming the mind, body and soul. This addition will equip us to educate young people for generations to come.”