3000 53rd Street SW, Naples, FL
NAPLES — Students and staff at St. John Neumann High School had a lot to be thankful about Friday.
It was the end of the first week of school.
They had a gorgeous new courtyard complete with a 25-foot-tall Celtic cross and a new physical education and fitness center.
And there was cake.
Neumann celebrated its many blessings Friday with a Celtic Prayer Circle around the new cross. It was the first formal event around the cross since it was erected this summer, said Donna Heiser, director of development at St. John Neumann High School.
During the ceremony, the students said prayers for those who will benefit from the use of the new facilities, those that made the dream possible, the safety of student athletes and for the school community.
The Celtic cross is a widely-used Christian symbol, said Father Gerald Critch, pastor at St. Peter the Apostle Church in East Naples, who was on hand for the ceremony.
“The cross has a history stretching further back than Christianity. According to Irish legend, St. Patrick created the cross by drawing a circle around a Latin cross to represent the Pagan moon goddess, possibly in an effort to convert the pagans of Britain to Christianity. However, to Irish Catholics today, the circle can represent Christ’s halo or the eternity and endless love,” he told the students.
Junior Rachel Calhoun, 16, said the cross was a bit “overwhelming,” but was excited for the ceremony.
“It’s a great addition to our campus,” she said.
Senior class treasurer Katey McCauley, 17, said the cross is great.
“It symbolizes our faith and what we’re all about,” she said.
The cross and the new physical education and fitness center are part of the school’s $10 million Reaching the Dream campaign. The plan is to expand the campus to include a chapel, and the construction of a new student life center with an indoor dining area, art room, new media center and an assembly hall to allow for school events, such as performing arts and assemblies.
The school has raised $4 million to date, said Principal Denny Denison.
Phase 1 included the fitness center, which was really the catalyst to the campaign, said Heiser.
After the Celtic Prayer Circle, visitors to campus were given tours of the new fitness center, with its black weights and gleaming silver bars.
“Eight years ago when I came in, we needed a weight room,” said Athletic director and Neumann football coach Steve Howie. “This is better than I have ever imagined.”
The school plans to hold another event in front of the Celtic cross during Homecoming. Bishop Frank J. Dewane will officiate during a dedication ceremony for the new buildings and the Celtic Cross that is planned for Oct. 29.
Connect with K-12 education policy reporter Katherine Albers at www.naplesnews.com/staff/katherine-albers/.