Press Releases

WHAT: Groundbreaking
WHEN: 11:30 a.m. Monday, February 14
WHERE: 3407 Lafayette Avenue
OF INTEREST: This century-old building in the Compton Hills neighborhood is undergoing construction to begin its fourth life. In every incarnation, the building has been affiliated with a Catholic ministry.
CONFIRMED GUEST: The Most Rev. Edward M. Rice, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
MORE INFORMATION: Sara Jelercic with Paric Corp., (636) 561-9565 or sljelercic@paric.com.Or, Kristi Ruggles, representing the Dominican communities, (314) 660-7341 or kristi.ruggles@sbcglobal.net.

(ST. LOUIS) – A ceremonial breaking of ground and a ritual blessing next week will symbolize the start of a fourth purpose for a historic building in the Compton Hills neighborhood in St. Louis.

Representatives from the City of St. Louis, architectural firm Nehring Design LLC, general contractor Paric Corp., and the St. Louis Catholic community are expected to participate in a groundbreaking for the new St. Dominic Priory at 11:30 a.m. Monday, Feb. 14, at 3704 Lafayette Avenue. The Most Rev. Edward M. Rice will lead a blessing.

This $8.1 million project will renovate and restore 48,000 square feet of existing space, preserve architectural gems, and build a 10,000-square-foot addition.

The building, which opened in 1909 as Loretto Academy, an all-girls Catholic high school, will reopen later this year as a residential community for students preparing for ordination and ministry in the Dominican religious order, also known as the Order of Preachers.

The students will come from 25 central and southern states, which represent two distinct geographic regions for the order. The Central Province is headquartered in Chicago and includes 14 states. The Southern Province is headquartered in New Orleans and encompasses 11 states. The priory is being built in St. Louis because Dominican priesthood candidates from these provinces complete their graduate degrees at Aquinas Institute of Theology in Midtown.

“This is the right time for this expansion in St. Louis on multiple levels,” said the Rev. David F. Wright, O.P., formation director for the Dominican community and a member of the leadership team for the project. “Since 1981, our students at Aquinas Institute have been living „temporarily‟ with the Jesuit community at Saint Louis University. In recent years, the number of Dominican students has grown, and that growth has created a need for more space.”

The number of Dominican students based in St. Louis has increased from 18 in the fall of 2007 to 32 scheduled to begin classes later this year. The students will be part of a community of more than 40 Dominican brothers and priests living at the new St. Dominic Priory.

The Rev. Charles Bouchard, O.P., former president of Aquinas Institute of Theology, said moving to the space is a good decision for other reasons as well.

“The Dominican order, like every religious order, has its unique purpose and personality,” Bouchard said. “We are preachers and teachers, and our ministry is rooted in and nourished by community life. We live in community as brothers and pursue the intellectual life and a life of spreading the Gospel. In this space, we will flourish as individuals and as a community. We will restore and keep alive a space with a century-old Catholic connection. We will add stability to an urban neighborhood. And, through conveniences such as being near a university bus line and city bus service, we will meet the needs of our students.”

The building, which drivers see as they exit Interstate 44 at Grand and Louisiana, represents a storied past. It was designed by architectural firm Barnett, Hayes, and Barnett, which was begun by the 19-century legendary architect George I. Barnett. Among buildings he designed are the state governor‟s mansion and the St. Louis Cathedral in the Central West End.
When the building opened as Loretto Academy in 1909, it was a suburban school constructed to escape city pollution and respond to population growth. In 1952, Loretto Academy closed and consolidated with Nerinx Hall in Webster Groves.

In the 59 years since, the building has served as a day care center, a home for retired Loretto sisters, and most recently, an apartment community, run by an association of religious orders, serving women and children in poverty. Changes in federal rent subsidies made it impossible for the association to continue to provide housing, and the building has been vacant since 2009.
The building represents an eclectic blend of Tudor revival, characterized by the brickwork and the copper domes on each tower, and Colonial revival, characterized by the four white columns on a neo-classical portico. It includes 32,000 square feet of living space and additional 16,000 feet of chapel, corridors, and storage.

The living quarters will undergo extensive renovation. The newly constructed 10,000 square feet will provide common space. Among features that will be preserved is a beautiful tile fireplace with a carved wooden mantle and a chapel that features stained glass windows believed to be the work of St. Louis artist Emil Frei.

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