By Michael Gresham
The Texas Catholic
When Mary Immaculate Catholic School students returned from the winter break in January, they were surprised to find a new treat at lunchtime — a completely renovated dining hall.
“The reaction has been phenomenal,” said Richard Ferry, director of development for Mary Immaculate Catholic Parish in Farmers Branch. “We kept it secret as much as possible until the first day the students came back from winter break. When we unveiled it, they absolutely loved it.”
The new dining hall is part of a three-phase renovation project looking to enhance a facility built in 1985. The first phase — a renovated kitchen — opened in the fall of 2023. The fully functioning kitchen now includes new plumbing lines and electrical wiring, as well as stainless steel, commercial-grade appliances. The third phase will be in an outdoor courtyard next to the dining hall, creating a workspace for collaboration including a Lego board. Another project ongoing at the campus is the construction of an outdoor, urban farming area.
“Our mission is to create a learning environment that fosters wonder and excitement,” said Father Alfonse Nazzaro, pastoral administrator of the parish and school. “When the kids come in this new dining hall and see our curvy ceiling and more modern look, it just fosters creativity.”
Renovation of the dining hall began in June. For the fall semester, students ate their meals in the parish hall. For the project design, the parish contracted HED (Harley Ellis Devereaux), the same architect firm used for construction of the church. The dining hall renovation included installing improved lighting, replacing floors and ceiling tiles, and updating the hall’s look.
One of the most noticeable aspects of the new dining hall is the design of the tables. Where students once sat at long, rectangular tables that dominated the dining hall, they now have circular tables designed to seat eight children at a time.
“With the old tables, it was hard to foster community,” Ferry said. “The new design allows the children to better interact and get to know each other. It allows us to really foster that community.”
Father Nazzaro noted that the conscious attention to detail with the renovation aimed to promote creativity and fellowship within the school community.
“When students are able to easily speak to each other, they can collaborate. They can hear other people and share ideas. I think every aspect of a school needs to be a learning environment,” he explained. “Every time you have a chance to collaborate, to build community, it is an opportunity to learn from each other.”
A donation from the estate of Marty Gierhl combined with a “sizable gift” from the Knights of Columbus Council 5052 funded the dining hall renovations, Ferry said.
As the dining hall renovation and other campus enhancement projects are being completed, Father Nazzaro noted that the school is also witnessing growth in its student enrollment. The school currently has around 470 students, up nearly 100 from three years ago.
“Our enrollment is skyrocketing,” Father Nazzaro said. “We’ve doubled the number of applications submitted for next year.”
Father Nazzaro explained that the role of a parish pastor is to create one community so that everybody understands how the success of a ministry comes back and rewards you in the future.
“The school has become the largest ministry for Mary Immaculate. With this, we are reinvesting in our community and our ministries,” he said. “It always goes back to gratitude. The parish and the school together are grateful to each other.”
Find more stories celebrating Catholic schools in the Diocese of Dallas in the Jan. 26 print edition of The Texas Catholic.