For more than two years, students, faculty and staff have watched workers turn bricks and columns into a soaring architectural work at the center of Jesuit High School's 40-acre Tampa campus.
On Tuesday, more than 500 people turned out for the culmination of the work — the dedication of the new Chapel of the Holy Cross, where students enrolled at the Roman Catholic all-boys school will attend their daily convocations and where Mass and sacraments will be celebrated.
Designed by Duncan Stroik, architecture professor at the University of Notre Dame, the 900-seat octagonal chapel features a brick exterior, original sculptures and limestone columns reminiscent of Renaissance cathedrals.
"After all these years, to see this beautiful building completed, it is just a great occasion," said Father Richard Hermes, a Jesuit priest and president of the high school at 4701 N Himes Ave. "This chapel will serve as a house of prayer and temple of God for many generations to come."
Jesuit High faculty, students, alumni and benefactors attended the dedication, forming a processional from the school gymnasium to the church.
The event included a thank you to Ted Couch Sr. — retired banker, Moffitt Cancer Center patron and a 1954 Jesuit High graduate who donated $3.5 million to the building project. A Mass followed, celebrated by the Most Rev. Michael Barber, bishop of Oakland and a member of the Jesuit order.
Barber and Stroik, who also attended the dedication, thanked Hermes for his leadership in carrying out the project. Hermes announced the construction of a new chapel in early 2016 after determining the old St. Anthony's Chapel could not be renovated.
"This is his sermon set in brick and stone," Stroik said, "and it is my prayer students will be listening to his sermon for many decades to come."
The dedication came on the day of a significant anniversary for Jesuits — 204 years since their order, the Society of Jesus, was restored by Pope Pius VII following its suppression four decades earlier by Pope Clement XIV.
The new chapel is part of a $40 million master plan for campus renovation, called "For Greater Glory." A new administration hall and courtyard area were completed earlier this year. Since fundraising started for the work in 2011, enrollment at Jesuit High has grown from about 650 to 810.
The chapel reflects Stroik's commitment to reviving classical church architecture. Cody Swanson, an American artist based in Florence, sculpted the Stations of the Cross and a statue of Jesuit founder St. Ignatius Loyola at the entrance. Paintings of the saints by Spanish artist Raul Berzosa adorn the inside altars. Stained glass by Wisconsin-based Conrad Schmitt Studios stretches to the ceiling.
Hermes even traveled to Italy to select marble, inspired by a conversation with Stoik.
"He told me in order to build beautiful churches in this era, churches capable of withstanding the test of time, you have to invest in high-quality artists," Hermes said.
At a time when many faith traditions face declining participation, Jesuit offers something sustaining, Hermes said.
"We have a clear identity," he said. "We offer a strong religious tradition in conjunction with being dedicated to the complete development of young men."
Much of the campus remains under renovation, with areas roped off and dirt signaling new construction sites. Phase Two of the school's renovation plan includes a performing arts center, student activities building and dining hall. Fall classes start Fridday (Aug. 10).
The commotion is worth the result, Hermes said, in part because of its lasting results on the Jesuit High community.
"Some of these young men," he said, "will come back and be married in this church."
Contact Sarah Whitman at hillsnews.com.