By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator 

“Mercy Magic” was the theme of the recent parish fair at Our Lady of Mercy Church in Baton Rouge as well as a description people use to describe the improvements being made to the OLOM Church and school campus as part of its Traditions for Tomorrow Campaign.  

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The expansion of the Early Childhood Center is part of Our Lady of Mercy’s Traditions for Tomorrow Campaign to improve the church and school campus. The facility will house OLOM’s  “littlest saints” this fall. Photo by Debbie Shelley | The Catholic Commentator

 

On April 22, the weekend prior to the fair, people had an opportunity to walk through the “new nest” for the littlest 64er6 Blue Jays, a 30,000 square-foot early childhood center building. At the outdoor Sunday Mass on April 29, OLOM pastor Father Cleo Milano announced that the much awaited construction of a new gym would begin the following Tuesday. He and parochial vicar Father Nutan Minj IMS then blessed the ground for the gym.  

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Our Lady of Mercy pastor Father Cleo Milano, center, and parochial vicar Father Nutan Minj IMS, right, bless the grounds where the church’s new gym facility will be built as Deacon Assistant Richard Grant looks on at an outdoor Mass on April 29, the weekend of the church’s fair. Photo by Darlene Aguillard

 

The new ECC includes 15 classrooms, a media center/library, music room, fine arts rooms, nurse’s station, break room space for teachers, a big gathering area and administrative offices, according to parish administrator Randy Arabie. Over the summer, it will be connected through a hallway into the existing lower elementary building and the floors and wall coloring will be “matched” to make a seamless transition from one building to the next.  

The facility will allow the school to “repurpose” some of the existing school structure into a center for students in the Diocese of Baton Rouge Special Education program. Arabie said it is important to the families that those with mainstream and exceptional students have them “under the same roof, in the same community, wearing the same uniform.”  

“It’s important for those families to be able to provide for a child who otherwise would not be able to have a typical Catholic parochial atmosphere,” said Arabie.  

OLOM families walked through and previewed the “new nest” of the school on April 22. Photo by Darlene Aguillard

 

With a growing enrollment, the building will allow the school to accommodate the students while keeping the class size down, essentially keeping the intimate, cozy feel of “a small school” within a big school, Arabie said.  

The Catholic identity and blending of academics with catechesis will be evident as one enters the school into a large gathering area, which features fun “nooks” in the wall for children to sit in.  

Different colors of paint will be applied in the ECC. The building will feature a color coded system similar to ones used in children’s hospitals and senior citizen’s facilities for children to find their way around. Photo by Debbie Shelley | The Catholic Commentator

 

In the gathering area, there will be an icon of a Eucharist with a cross from which will radiate different colored stripes to help children find their way to certain color-coded sections of classrooms. A teacher for, example, can instruct the students to “follow the green line” until they arrive in a green color-coded area of classrooms where another teacher will be waiting. It’s similar to the color directional signage used by children’s hospitals and some senior citizen facilities. Arabie said with a smile that the width of the halls is “extra generous so kids can have wiggle room” as they learn the finer points of such things as forming lines.  

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Construction workers prime the hallways for painting in the ECC. Photo by Debbie Shelley | The Catholic Commentator

 

In the the gathering area, there will hang a lighting fixture featuring the Immaculate Heart of Mary and Sacred Heart of Jesus, a nod to Most Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Baton Rouge, from which OLOM traces its origins.  

There is also a nook for a statue of Our Lady of Mercy that came from the Salesian Sisters, of Cuba, known as the Daughters of Mary, Help of Christians.  

These religious women were the forerunners of others who would faithfully serve OLOM School for 30 years. The sisters lived in a house across the street from the main school building. While learning English, they helped with religion classes and minor duties in the school.  

Also, the lights at the intersection of one hallway is formed in the shape of a cross.  

The new facility will also play an important part in providing students with enrichment opportunities, learning such things as painting, drawing, photography and lessons on musical instruments such as the violin, viola and cello.  

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The entryways into the secured ECC building will give a nice outside view. Photo by Debbie Shelley | The Catholic Commentator

 

“It is our goal to have a youth orchestra within five years,” said Arabie.  

The playgrounds play area will also feature sectioned off areas with age appropriate equipment. The area is in the shape of a circle, which further emphasizes the feel of a close-knit family.  

The classrooms also feature child-height and adult-height windows.  

With the building of a new gym, which will take up some of the green space of the athletics field, the current gym, which will be in its third “repurpose” since being built in 1955 as the original Our Lady of Mercy Church/School, will be given all the “bells and whistles” to become a performing arts center. Because the current gym has to serve as a multi-purpose facility, there was not adequate time and space for the ball teams, dance teams, cheerleaders and theater program participants to hold practices and rehearsals. This will free up the gym for athletics and to allows the other programs to have their own “home” Arabie said.  

Arabie, who has been with Our Lady of Mercy for 15 years, said it has been a first for him to see $10 million raised in two years and to build two $5 million dollar facilities.  

“From it’s conception about three years ago, it’s been pretty incredible,” said Arabie, who attributed it to the vision and enthusiasm of the parish leadership and its family and members.  

“It’s been a movement of the community,” said Arabie. 

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A statute of Our Lady of Mercy that came from the Salesian Sisters of Cuba, who played an important role in the history of the school, will adorn the gathering area at the ECC. Photo by Debbie Shelley | The Catholic Commentator