There was much to bless at St. Joseph High School in Harrison

Mary Ann Thomas
| Saturday, Oct. 17, 2009

The gymnasium in the Walter Dlubak Athletic Center on Montana Avenue in Harrison was transformed into a house of worship with Roman Catholic Bishop David Zubik celebrating Mass there yesterday.

An estimated 850 St. Joseph High School supporters, students, teachers and alumni stuffed the spacious gymnasium for the dedication of the athletic center, as well as the brand-new science and technology center.

Zubik blessed the complex's new rooms, walking through the men's locker room, stairwells, science labs and past a row of Nautilus exercise machines.

"What a walk we had," said the Diocese of Pittsburgh's Secretary of Education, the Rev. Kris Stubna. "We almost ran out of holy water."

There was much to bless.

Fifteen years in the making, the three-story educational and athletic complex provides much needed room for expansion of the growing student base of what is the oldest Catholic high school in the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Founded 95 years ago in the Natrona neighborhood of Harrison, St. Joseph High School, now in Natrona Heights, used to consist of only 11 rented classrooms owned by Our Lady of the Most Blessed Sacrament Parish.

The new educational complex, next door to the parish, is the first building owned by St. Joe's, according to officials there. The school also will continue to rent classrooms from Blessed Sacrament.

The new facilities include a 33,500-square-foot athletic complex, the Walter Dlubak Athletic Center, which opened last December.

Most recently, the Science and Technology Center was operational for the start of this academic year and features state of the art classrooms with Wi-Fi, laboratories, and rooms for guidance counseling, faculty and alumni relations. The entire cost of the St. Joseph's project was $9 million.

There's even a classroom dedicated to robotics with an informal sign exclaiming, "St. Joe's Robotics rocks," referring to the school's award-winning robotics program, part of a college prep curriculum that offers 35 college credits.

"This is not just about the new building," said Beverly Kaniecki, St. Joseph's principal. "It's about that more students will have the opportunity to come here where we are passing on the faith."

For the third year in a row, St. Joseph High School has been named to the National Catholic High School Honor Roll, making it one of the 50 top Catholic schools in the country.

Enrollment has grown by more than 40 percent from 132 students six years ago to the current 188 students, according to Kaniecki.

And the school would like to grow the student body to 400 in the next decade, she added.

The new space dedicated to science and technology will only enhance the educational quality at the school, Kaniecki said.

Math teacher Anthony Sorrentino now uses a digital projector that displays the steps to solve a math problem using a calculator. And with Wi-Fi, it's easier to provide student access to computers in class.

"Before, we had to wait to get time," said Sorrentino. "The new classrooms allow us to make the most out of math education."

The high school now feels more like a campus, according to senior Kayla Pelczar who walks to classes in the old parish building and the new science and technology center.

"The technology in the new building is beneficial and it's a better learning environment," said the 18-year old New Kensington resident. Wishing she could have had the new classrooms throughout her last four years, Pelczar said, "The younger students are blessed to have this place."

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