Catholic education is showing itself to be "alive and well" in Bismarck, apparent with $38 million in donations raised to build a new private high school north of town.

Light of Christ Catholic School's capital campaign surpassed the $36 million needed to construct the new school, which the system will use to break ground on later this month.

Within a year, a total of $38 million has been collected, with $46.5 million required to complete the high school and renovate the other schools within the system.

The Light of Christ Catholic Schools student body packed the St. Mary's Central High School gymnasium on Thursday afternoon for an announcement of the campaign milestone.

The 2017-18 school year marked continued enrollment growth for LOC, with a 25 percent increase in students over the past five years. A total of 1,320 students are enrolled across the system.

"Do you think Catholic education is alive and well in the Bismarck Diocese?" Vern Dosch, the chairman for LOC's capital campaign, asked students, parents and others who attended Thursday's event. The gymnasium erupted in cheers.

"Do you think we should build a new school?" Dosch continued as the students clapped and cheered again. "Well, today we are here to tell you that we are ready, we have met the criteria, we have raised the money — the effort is ongoing — and we will build a new St. Mary's Central High School."

The new high school will be located on 48 acres of land donated by local developer Ron Knutson and his wife, Ruth.

Bismarck residents Ken and Marilyn Keller also gave a $5 million matching donation, which raised $10 million for the campaign. Additionally, they made a multimillion donation for a 600-seat chapel to be built at the new high school. The couple grew up in Bismarck, and their six children and 10 grandchildren have attended Light of Christ Catholic Schools.

"As (Light of Christ) president Gerald Vetter often states, 'It all started 140 years ago when the Benedictine nuns got off the train," said Bishop David Kagan. "This is a historic time for Catholic education in central North Dakota. I want to thank the thousands of people who have contributed through prayer and generosity ... and especially Ken and Marilyn Keller for their belief in Catholic education. "

A groundbreaking ceremony will be held at 11 a.m. Sept. 17 at the site for the new high school, located near 57th Avenue and east of Washington Street in Bismarck.

(Reach Blair Emerson at 701-250-8251 or Blair.Emerson@bismarcktribune.com)

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