A new building at Bellarmine Preparatory School is the first on the Tacoma Catholic high school’s campus to be dedicated to a female saint.
The new student center is dedicated to St. Joan of Arc, a medieval teenager who was inspired by her faith in God to lead French armies into battle during the Hundred Years War between England and France.
Captured by enemies, she was turned over to the English. They tried her as a heretic and a witch, and executed her by burning her at the stake in 1431. She was 19 when she died, and was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church in 1920.
Joan is the patron saint of France, and of soldiers. The center at Bellarmine is called the Connelly Campus Center Dedicated to St. Joan of Arc.
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She was 17 years old when she took control of the armies of France, back in a time when women were not expected to be in that position. She had to have been an extremely extraordinary person.
Jack Connelly, attorney and Bellarmine benefactor
Tacoma attorney Jack Connelly and his wife, Angela, who have had four children graduate from Bellarmine and a fifth who is a senior this year, are one of the “cornerstone” donors to the $12.5 million center, which opened at the start of the current school year.
Jack has a special devotion to St. Joan, and hopes that her example will inspire leadership qualities in Bellarmine students.
“I want the students at Bellarmine to realize this was a teenage saint,” Connelly said. “She was 17 years old when she took control of the armies of France, back in a time when women were not expected to be in that position. She had to have been an extremely extraordinary person to command men and win battles.”
The 19,470-square-foot center offers a conference room dedicated to use by student leadership, and it’s the new office home of the school’s ASB adviser.
Connelly says he hopes student leaders will use the center’s facilities and be inspired by St. Joan’s faith-based example to “courageous leadership, to not be afraid to stand up for what you believe in.”
The center features a large open space where Bellarmine students eat lunch, prepared by X-Group catering, a Tacoma company founded by Bellarmine alum John Xitco.
The center is open 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., offering students a place for before- and after-school activities.
One popular element inside the center is a broad wooden staircase that runs alongside the main stairway. The staircase can be used as a seating area for students during lunch or for those who want to enjoy a snack while they study.
“I love how spacious it is,” said senior Alexis Wilhelm, who stopped by on a recent Friday morning. “During study period, we get to choose where we want to be. This is my first choice.”
Senior Caitlyn Alejo appreciates the center’s high ceilings that easily accommodate acrobatics during cheerleading practices.
I love how spacious it is.
Bellarmine senior Alexis Wilhelm
Banners hanging over the two-story open space bear the names of other Catholic saints who are the patrons of the school’s six student houses — small groups designed to contribute to school spirit and forge bonds between students in the school, which has an enrollment of more than 900.
In addition to the student conference space, a glass-walled conference room is dedicated to graduates of two other Tacoma Catholic schools, Aquinas Academy and St. Leo’s.
In the 1970s, Bellarmine, which was originally an all-boys school, became the first Jesuit-run high school in the country to become co-ed when it merged with Aquinas and St. Leo’s schools. Bellarmine is working to incorporate memorabilia from alumni of those two schools into the conference area.
Other student services, including counseling offices, also are housed in the center. The building is available for community rentals.
While the Connelly family is one of the building’s major donors, hundreds of other Bellarmine supporters have contributed. The fundraising campaign that helped build the center has raised more than $7.5 million, and the campaign goal is $8 million, which the school hopes to reach by December.
Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635