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By Elena Macias

During an evening of reunion, gratitude and commitment to Catholic education, Aquinas High School dedicated two new buildings, the Janice Lemann Visual Arts Center, and the Steinmann Family Center for Innovation. The dedication of the two buildings, which are the newest additions to a growing campus, took place on Oct. 11 at Aquinas High School.

“It’s wonderful to see this group of people coming together supporting what’s really valuable not only for the school itself but really for the society, for the community,” Bishop Alberto Rojas said. “This is like a light in the darkness of the world, so I am grateful.”

The evening began with a Mass celebrated by Bishop Rojas and Concelebrant Bishop Emeritus Gerald Barnes. As the sun set and the air started to cool, Bishop Rojas opened Mass by expressing his gratitude for the love and generosity of the people who helped fund the new buildings. Bishop Rojas also dedicated the Mass to one of the donors, Dr. Janice Lemann, who passed away on August 6, 2023.

Since 2017, Aquinas has gone through what the school’s President, Dr. Chris Barrows, calls a “rebirth.” The school has added the San Manuel Performing Arts Center, the Lemann Leadership Center and remodeled the Gogo Gymnasium, among other improvements. The two newest buildings add to the school’s 70-year history as well as the legacy of their committed alumni supporters.

“I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on this, and I thought how fitting the four major donors to this project were because they represent different eras of Aquinas and different stages of our growth and our development,” Dr. Barrows said during opening remarks.

Following the Mass, Dr. Barrows introduced each of the three family donors who helped contribute to the new buildings by describing how they fit into the school’s history.

“Mr. Lemann represents those beginning the first couple decades of Aquinas but more importantly has been a steady supporter ever since,” Dr. Barrows. “When I arrived, 24 years ago, I heard his name all the time. He’d sneak in the back door and usually give a little wave, but he was always there, always that presence that we knew we could count on to support us.”

The school’s new Visual Arts Center is named and dedicated to Lemann’s late wife, Dr. Janice Lemann, a longtime benefactor of Aquinas. She was remembered as a passionate champion of arts education who generously dedicated her time, talent and resources to help advance Aquinas High School’s Visual Arts program.

“It was her dream,” Bill Lemann said. “Her dream come true, and she’s a great woman and this is a great school and this alumni and this leadership and the diocese, everybody honors her by doing this. It’s beautiful.”

The Janice Lemann Center for Visual Arts will provide a 1,500 square feet indoor studio with nearly another 1,000 square feet of outdoor learning space. An additional classroom in the building will be used for Digital Arts.
The new Center for Innovation is dedicated to the Steinmann family, who have an alumni legacy at Aquinas High School.

“The Steinmann family, with their children and their spouses, they’ve sent 32 students through Aquinas High School,” Dr. Barrows said. “That’s a lot, so that’s just a wonderful thing.”

In his remarks, Dr. John Steinman talked about the beginnings of his family’s connection to Aquinas.

“It was 47 years ago, I met my beautiful wife on those steps over there,” Dr. John Steinmann said as he took the podium. “We had the opportunity to send six of our children through here… and we’re not too far from the third generation getting started here.”

Steinmann called himself a “rookie” donor compared to the other “all-star varsity players,” and thanked the Lemann family, Shea family and the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, as well as taking time to thank the Aquinas family.

The Steinmann Family Innovation Center will be the new home of the Aquinas Engineering Academy and the Aquinas robotics team. The main classroom will provide nearly 1,500 square feet of open space filled with state-of-the-art equipment and technology to allow students to see engineering and robotics projects from the design phase through fabrication and production.

Dr. Barrows also thanked the other two major supporters of the two buildings, the Shea family, who have supported Aquinas since the early 2000’s and San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, who have established over $2 million in endowments to Aquinas.

Following the speeches, was the ribbon cutting. The Lemann and Steinmann family took their respective places in front of the new Aquinas buildings that bear their name and joyfully cut the ribbons, symbolizing the grand opening. Lastly, Bishop Rojas performed a blessing by praying over the buildings and then he and Bishop Barnes sprinkled Holy Water inside the classrooms.

“May this be a place where the laughter of students is heard and all present be treated with love and respect. Let this be a place of peace, offering refuge from chaos and doubt… may gifts fall among those present. May God bless this school and the new classrooms,” Bishop Rojas said.

Elena Macias is the Managing Editor of the Inland Catholic BYTE.