Catholic High seniors make once-in-a-lifetime gift

Wheeled out of a janitor’s closet, the tires on the dolly squeaking under the weight, the rectangle of concrete doesn’t look like much as it approaches. In fact, for a treasure piece, it doesn’t even look that old. But wheel it slightly to port, exposing its broadside to the viewer, and Steve Aday’s pulse starts to quicken.

“We couldn’t believe it, it was absolutely pristine,” he said, his eyes running across the words engraved into the side of the cornerstone of the original high school’s downtown building, nearly as stark and as fresh as the day they were carved.

“It’s pretty much the only thing that remained of Catholic High (downtown),” he said. “I just had this idea that this is ours, I thought it was a sin to just leave it there just rotting away.”

Aday, a second-generation graduate and current member of the English department faculty, also serves as director of alumni. In that role, he started to learn more about the old campus, which operated at 2501 State Street from 1930 to 1960. The structure was built originally in 1911 for Little Rock College and St. John Seminary. When the seminary moved to the Pulaski Heights area of Little Rock, Catholic High opened in the old building.

“I always had a desire to go down and see the old school just hearing so much about it through the alumni association,” Aday said.

Aday arrived with little more than a passing curiosity, but a month later he was looking through old yearbooks and saw a photo of the building’s engraved cornerstone. Aday knew if the building still stood, the cornerstone would have to be there.

“Based on where it was and how it looked, I just went back down to the school and saw that it was covered up in plaster,” he said.

Aday sold his idea to reclaim the cornerstone for the school with principal Steve Straessle. With the help of the building’s local representative Steve Harvey, the building’s owners, JM-ARK Acquisitions of Canada, were petitioned and permission was granted to remove the artifact.

“It was really a shot in the dark, because it was covered in plaster,” he said. “We had no idea if someone has taken a sledgehammer to it and that’s why they covered it in plaster, no clue if it had been graffitti’d or vandalized or anything.”

In October, just ahead of the school’s homecoming and alumni dinner, workers delivered the 600-plus pound cornerstone to the school while class was in session to keep the find under wraps. Meanwhile, Aday had corralled senior class officers and suggested the piece be the 2015 senior class gift. The officers agreed to use their funds to pay to remove the cornerstone and associated costs for displaying the cornerstone on campus.

 “Since the start of this year one of the big things for our senior class was the class gift and how we will be remembered,” said Brendan Anderson, class president. “(Aday) asked me if we wanted this to be our class gift. That was the easiest decision I have ever made.”

A bonus was the discovery of a time capsule that included the May 30, 1911, edition of the Arkansas Gazette and the May 27, 1911, edition of The Southern Guardian, forerunner to Arkansas Catholic, which gave Aday shivers as they predated the start of the school’s current renovation essentially 101 years to the day.

“That to me is not a coincidence, that’s providence,” he said.

Also in the capsule was a photo of the Little Rock College football team, an architectural drawing of the school and a few coins and business cards from priests on staff. The find was enough to inspire the current senior class.

“Having the time capsule in it was very cool because now we’re thinking about making our own time capsule and putting it inside,” said Jack Carter, senior class secretary/treasurer. “That would be a huge deal if we could do that.”

The piece was unveiled and blessed at the alumni dinner and plans are now being made for enshrining it as a monument in a prominent place on the current campus, along with a plaque explaining its significance and to translate the Latin inscription. It reads:

“To the Lord, in whom dwells the fullness of divinity, wisdom and knowledge. This structure, Fitzgerald Hall, is dedicated and erected for the purpose of instructing youth in the commandments of God and in human prudence. In the year of our Lord 1911”

“I think this is really neat because it not only connects us as a senior class but as a whole body of students,” said Jordy Moix, vice president. “All of the alumni of Catholic High can come together and see this almost as a common point in our tradition and our teaching. I think of it more as unifier than a gift, per se. I think everybody will enjoy it and realize how much it brings us together.”

Dwain Hebda

You can see Dwain Hebda’s byline in Arkansas Catholic and dozens of other online and print publications. He attends Our Lady of the Holy Souls Church in Little Rock.

Latest from News