TONTITOWN — Every big venture has both the dreamers and realists. But chalk this one up to the dreamers.
For decades now, a dream has thrived to establish a Catholic high school in the northwest Arkansas. Despite a series of false starts in the past, this vision began to take shape last fall when headmaster John Rocha of Houston was hired. A name, Ozark Catholic Academy, was settled upon for the new high school and renewed interest quickly followed. Now, with the announcement of the location, the dream is on its way to becoming a reality.
On April 21, Rocha revealed that OCA will be on the campus of St. Joseph Church in Tontitown. He announced that the doors to the Father Pietro Bandini Parish Education Center will open to the first OCA students, ninth and tenth graders, in the fall of 2018.
Father Greg Hart, pastor, along with Rocha, the founding board of OCA and the parish council have been collaborating for several months, finalizing details on the agreement.
School officials believe the location and facilities are ideal. The Father Pietro Bandini Parish Education Center, built in 2007, and located directly behind the historic old school building, currently has six large furnished classrooms on the east end of the building, that can be used for the high school. A large parish hall, where the annual Grape Festival dinners have been served, has a stage for assemblies and productions with cafeteria/kitchen space for lunch. Additionally, there is office space, a large recreational/meeting room, restrooms, ample parking and more than 20 acres of outdoor space. Currently the board is also exploring options for a gym and other athletic spaces.
The church could be used for Masses and Eucharistic adoration. Although a few of the spaces would be shared space, most of the facility is underutilized during the school day, Father Hart said. The parish hosts a Mother’s Day Out program, but it is located in a different area of the building.
“We are thrilled to be opening the doors to Ozark Catholic Academy at St. Joseph’s in Tontitown,” said Ashley Menendez, founding board president and parishioner at St. Joseph Church in Fayetteville. “Looking at the facility, their religious education building is a perfect interim location offering essentially new classrooms, abundant green space and most importantly, a parish church on campus.”
“We are so thankful for Father Hart and the entire St. Joseph parish for partnering with us in realizing this dream for our community.”
Father Hart, who came to the parish in 2010, sees this new partnership as a constructive and strategic move for the area and for St. Joseph Parish.
“I attended Catholic schools my entire life,” Father Hart said, “and I’ve always been in favor of a Catholic high school for this area.”
“The Father Bandini Parish Education Center is completed and paid for,” continued Father Hart, “and although we use it as a parish, we have an opportunity to assist OCA in their desire to be founded and started here.”
Even if on a temporary basis, Father Hart concedes the relationship would be mutually beneficial.
“We are one of the smaller parishes in the northwest Arkansas area, this decision to collaborate with the high school could put us on the map for young and growing families in an area that is really beginning to boom,” Father Hart said.
Certainly, as board members agree, the location is also crucial to meeting the needs of residents in northwest Arkansas because Tontitown is an equitable distance from Fayetteville, Rogers, Bentonville and Siloam Springs.
Earlier this month, Bishop Anthony B. Taylor visited with Father Hart, Rocha and local Catholic Phillip Taldo to discuss the progress the project has made in the past year and about the collaborative agreement of the parish and OCA.
“We are very grateful to Bishop Taylor for supporting this relationship between the parish and OCA,” Rocha said.
Although Taldo has been a member of St. Raphael Parish in Springdale for more than 40 years, he has strong ties to Tontitown and the area.
“I grew up in Tontitown, went to school in the now historic school building and even met my wife, Mary Ann, while attending school there,” Taldo said. “When John came to me, we talked and analyzed the area and we zeroed in on Tontitown because of its relatively central location.”
While Taldo has been involved in campaigns to get a Catholic high school in area before, he sees this effort as different.
“Different, because the approach begins with building a student body and a program, first, before you have major investments of buying land and a paying for a building,” he said.
Taldo was appointed to serve on the Arkansas State Highway Commission by Gov. Asa Hutchison in January. Prior to that, he served two years on the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.
Rocha said this was not the first time a parish and school cooperated in a venture like this, referring to the relationship of Trinity Junior High School in Fort Smith. Father Jack Harris started Trinity in 1986 with the help of the three parishes in Fort Smith. Originally located at Immaculate Conception Parish, the school moved in 1996 and has since resided on the grounds of St. Scholastica Monastery. Likewise, OCA will lease part of the building for fair market value.
For a facilities overview and virtual tour of the new space, visit ozarkcatholic.org.
Please read our Comments Policy before posting.Article comments powered by Disqus