The 30-foot-tall crucifix that gives the student entrance to Helias Catholic High School its name is much more than a symbol for the hundreds who pass by it on their way to class each day.
It’s also a reminder to follow Jesus back out into the world, encountering, accompanying, praying and sacrificing for all people, just as he did.
“This entryway into a place of growth and learning is also an exit, through which we are sent forth on mission,” stated Father Paul Clark, chaplain of Helias Catholic.
Fr. Clark blessed and rededicated the school’s substantially expanded and improved “Crucifix Entrance” on Sept. 7.
Arms raised toward heaven, he pronounced the prayers of blessing and then cast holy water onto the walls, the floor, the crucifix and the people standing nearby, just as Cardinal Joseph E. Ritter of St. Louis had done nearly 67 years previously.
“O God, it is by your gracious favor that today we inaugurate this work, this entryway to a building dedicated to education,” Fr. Clark prayed. “Grant that those who will come through here as teachers or as students may always pursue the truth and learn to know you, the source of all truth.”
The priest pointed out that holy water is a reminder to all Christians of their Baptism — “that which brings us into relationship with our God and actually gives us the Holy Spirit that the Church wants to renew and always generate in us as we are sent forth by that same Spirit.”
Joining Fr. Clark in the rededication ceremony were student leaders in the school’s campus ministry program. The rest of the school took part in the ritual via livestream in their classrooms.
Together, they prayed a specially written prayer for the occasion.
“Open our hearts and minds more fully to learn who you are as our God and to grow in who we are as your children,” they prayed. “When we leave these halls, may we, like you, look with love at each person we encounter, that by our words and actions, we may reveal to others that Jesus is present in our hearts.”
They also prayed for all who will pass through this refurbished entrance, and for all who provided the means to build it.
Helias Catholic Interim President Ron Vossen, himself a Helias graduate and longtime faculty member, spoke of the significance of highlighting the crucifix at the entrance.
“Our school’s mission is to support students as they strengthen their faith, build community and seek excellence in all they do,” he said.
He pointed out that students have been crossing paths with that same crucifix since Helias Catholic opened in 1956.
“When you talk about Helias and traditions, this is definitely one of them,” he said. “I’m so pleased to be standing here with this completed renovation, with the cross front-and-center, to really bring this forward and let people see what we stand for.”
He thanked the benefactors who paid for the project, as well as the Architects Alliance Inc., which designed the renewed entrance; Sircal Contracting Inc., the general contractor; “and the many other contractors who helped with this.”
“Marked by the cross”
This was the original main entrance to the school building, designed by famed mid-century church architects of Murphy and Mackey of St. Louis.
The crucifix includes a sculpted aluminum figure of Christ fastened to a large walnut cross.
The school’s founders got the idea to make a large crucifix the focal point of the entrance when “the Crusaders” was chosen as the school’s nickname.
“Crusaders” comes from the Latin word meaning “one marked by the cross.”
Although a new main entrance was completed as part of an expansion to the complex in 2017, most students still enter and leave the building through the Crucifix Entrance.
Renovations to the entrance, completed in late 2022, were designed to make the building — and by extension, the community — more welcoming and hospitable to students and visitors.
They included extending the entrance outward and adding an atrium area, as well as covered walkways leading up to the entrance on both sides.
A prominent new sign says “Helias Catholic High School.”
The original crucifix was brought forward with the expanded entryway, “with new lighting installed to keep the image of Jesus on the cross visible at the heart of our community at all times,” stated Helias graduate Rebecca Martin, communication director for the school.
Helias alumna Maureen Quinn, director of religious education and youth/young adult ministry for the Jefferson City diocese, said there are traditions “with a little ‘t’” at Helias Catholic and those “with a big ‘T.’”
“This crucifix is about as big of a ‘T’ as you can get,” she said.
Father Joseph Luzindana, diocesan moderator for youth and young adult ministry, also attended the dedication.
“It’s beautiful,” he said. “I’m so happy to see that the first thing that greets you here is a crucifix — a big one.”
He said that’s important because of Jesus’s directive that “if you want to be a follower of mine, the first thing you must do is carry your cross and follow me.”
“Whatever we do here, we do it in Christ,” Fr. Luzindana stated. “And the symbol of that is the cross.”
A place for Mary
The renovated entrance also includes a new statue of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, patroness of the Jefferson City diocese.
Helias alumnus Jim Wisch and his grandson, Max Borgmeyer, a sophomore at the school, built the pedestal for the statue.
“I wanted to do a project with my grandfather, and this was one that he was working on,” said Max. “So it’s a good starter for us.”
The polished wood came from a walnut tree that had to be felled when a building in Jefferson City was expanded.
Max said he’s especially pleased with how he and Mr. Wisch filled the natural crevasses in the wood at the top of the platform with turquoise-colored highlights.
“It’s a nice color,” he said. “It complements the statue, and the turquoise goes nice with everything around it.”
Max said he enjoys being a Crusader.
“This is a Catholic school, and my faith is important to me, and the education here is very good,” he said.
He likes the idea that future generations of students will walk every day past something he and his grandfather made.
“It’s a good piece of history,” he said. “I’m glad we could leave our mark here.”