JOPLIN, MO.--- The last week of January is National Catholic Schools Week.
"National Catholic Schools Week is an annual opportunity for us to celebrate our Catholic schools and what a gift they are, not only to our church but to our families, our communities," says Bishop James Johnston, Catholic Diocese.
More than 400 students from Joplin's Mcauley High School, Saint Peter's, Saint Mary's, and Carthage's Saint Anne's attended the all-schools mass today.
"The importance of Catholic Schools Week for this particular area is the fact that, in Joplin, we make up less than 4% of the population," says Gene Koester, McAuley Catholic High School Principal.
Bishop James Johnston Junior was in Joplin to give the mass. He also heard first-hand construction updates from Saint Mary's Father Justin Monaghan.
"The church will hold 750, eventually. The school has some more specialized classrooms than it did before," says Father Justin Monaghan, Sant Mary's.
He says contractors will be chosen within the next few weeks and it's all about working out the details right now.
"We're dealing with the city also. They're going to be taking quite a piece of our land for a future 4-lane highway on South Central City Road," says Father Monaghan.
Church leaders hope to break ground on phase one of the $13-million facility early this summer and should take 18 months to build.
"I get everyday, 'When are we starting, Father? When are we getting a sign up?" says Father Monaghan.
For church members, it will be a welcome step forward.
"The Joplin area has some remarkably resilient people and I've found that it is a place of deep faith," says Bishop Johnston.
People can expect a welcome sight soon to the 47-acre property. Father Monaghan says the official sign that will state "The Future Site of Saint Mary's Church and School" should be put in the ground next week.