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Belen’s new aquatic center: ‘a holy place’

Olympic-sized and beginner’s pools dedicated in memory of deceased alumnus Gian Zumpano

Phil Fernandez, Belen development director, applauds the Zumpano family seated beside him, from left: Daniel, Rosana, Joe, and Carlos.

Photographer: MARLENE QUARONI | FC

Phil Fernandez, Belen development director, applauds the Zumpano family seated beside him, from left: Daniel, Rosana, Joe, and Carlos.

MIAMI | Archbishop Thomas Wenski sprinkled holy water on the newly-opened Gian Zumpano Aquatic Center at Belen Jesuit Preparatory School just as a passing rain cloud sprinkled water from above into the Olympic-sized and beginners’ pools. East of the center, above the speaker’s podium, a rainbow appeared in the sky.

“I think the Holy Spirit was here at the dedication,” said Joe Zumpano, ‘87, about his older brother, who died in his sleep at age 22 in 1990. “Gian had fought gran mal epilepsy for years. He loved God and water sports.”

He noted that he and Gian, ‘86, had started the swimming team at Belen in 1983. Their brothers, Dan, ‘91, and Carlos, ‘92, were swimming team members.

“This center carries an echo of Gian,” Joe Zumpano said.

Belen had a swimming pool, but it wasn’t adequate to host swimming competitions, said swimming coach Kirk Peppas, who has coached the Belen team for 30 years, winning seven state championships.

Archbishop Thomas Wenski blesses Belen Jesuit's new Gian Zumpano Aquatic Center.

Photographer: MARLENE QUARONI | FC

Archbishop Thomas Wenski blesses Belen Jesuit's new Gian Zumpano Aquatic Center.

“Now we’ll be able to host other schools,” said Peppas. “And we’ll get more school support.”

The old pool was in great demand, said Joe Zumpano.

“Besides Belen and Our Lady of Lourdes students and summer camp kids, emergency rescue workers used the pool for training,” he said. “The new pool is twice the size of the old pool.”

View of the grotto with Gian Zumpano's bust and reflecting cross on top wall of grotto at Belen Jesuit's new Gian Zumpano Aquatic Center.

Photographer: MARLENE QUARONI | FC

View of the grotto with Gian Zumpano's bust and reflecting cross on top wall of grotto at Belen Jesuit's new Gian Zumpano Aquatic Center.

Zumpano brothers Joe, Dan and Carlos, along with their sister, Rosana, attended the dedication ceremony June 6. Joe, Dan and Carlos went on to swim for Harvard. Rosana swam for Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart in Coconut Grove before attending the University of Miami. Gian was the class of ‘87 valedictorian. He attended another Jesuit school, Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, where his father attended medical school and met Rose, Gian’s mother. She taught high school in Omaha.


LONGTIME DREAM

The aquatic center dream had been floating around for a long time, said Belen’s president, Jesuit Father Guillermo Garcia-Tuñón. The Zumpano brothers are all attorneys and Rosana is a legal administrator. They contributed a significant amount of time and money to the project, along with donations from others.

“Now that dream has become a reality,” said Father Garcia-Tuñón. “Future generations will learn to swim here and be trained in swimming and water polo. God has been good to Belen. Not simply because we can build and take advantage of such a beautiful structure, but also for blessing us with a man like Gian Zumpano, whose life has inspired us to continue striving for greatness.”

Father Garcia-Tuñón, Belen class of ‘87, knew Gian Zumpano, who was one year ahead of him.

“He truly and most sincerely was authentically good, religious, charitable, and kind,” said Father Garcia- Tuñón. “Gian was truly a son of Belen, a true man for others. When I was on a day of retreat, Gian spoke about his personal faith journey and encouraged us to focus on strengthening our bonds with each other and with God. Smart and athletic, he captivated your attention and respect, not only with what he said, but with how he lived.”

In keeping with the Jesuit tradition, architect John Medina, Belen ‘77, built several religious elements into the aquatic center. He called the center “a holy place.”

“There’s a grotto facing the learning pool with a bust of Gian Zumpano and the names of his ‘87 classmates inscribed on the side walls,” said Medina. “An inscription reads, ‘I cried because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet. In loving memory of Gian Zumpano.’ On the grotto’s ceiling a cross carved through the cement creates a cross shadow at noon onto the grotto. Youngsters will learn to swim in the beginner’s pool under the guidance of God.”

A photo from the 1980s of Belen swimmers Jorge Baste, Gian Zumpano, Joe Zumpano and Henry Artalejo, seen during a video presented at the dedication of Belen Jesuit's new Gian Zumpano Aquatic Center.

Photographer: MARLENE QUARONI | FC

A photo from the 1980s of Belen swimmers Jorge Baste, Gian Zumpano, Joe Zumpano and Henry Artalejo, seen during a video presented at the dedication of Belen Jesuit's new Gian Zumpano Aquatic Center.

A friend in Omaha who was a sculptor created the bust of Gian, said Joe Zumpano. “When we found out about the bust we asked him to bring it to Miami where we would eventually place it in the aquatic center’s grotto.”

Beginning swimmers will use the small, narrow pool beside the Olympic pool to learn to swim. Swimmers competing in meets can use it to warm up and wind down before and after a competition. A window for spectators lines the narrow pool. It starts out wide on the north side then tapers down on the south side.

 

JONAH, MOTHER TERESA

“It is meant to resemble a whale, as in the story of Jonah and the whale,” said Medina. “The whale swallowed Jonah, then released him. God wanted Jonah to change his direction and find his way in life. It also gives the impression of a velocimeter where speed increases as a swimmer progresses through the pool. The curved aluminum wall on the north side of the spectators’ window represents the bones of the whale.”

The canopies over the spectators’ bleachers are blue and white, like Mother Teresa’s habit, he said. The amphitheater seats are acoustically-designed so that the cheering audience doesn’t distract the swimmers. The pool is designed for hydrodynamics. And there are underwater speakers that swimmers can hear.

Some elements of the aquatic center still remain to be completed, but summer camp is starting and children in the community need the facility.

“We are fine-tuning some features of the center,” said Medina. “A cross, like the one Pope John Paul II carried, will be placed in a carved-out space, west of the jumbotron screen. The solid aluminum entrance doors have to be installed. They will have carvings of birds representing the Holy Spirit and a priest’s garments symbolizing peace. The doors near the locker room will have carvings of lilies.”

The area occupied by the old pool will be filled in with a garden and signature trees representing Jesuits who have taught at Belen, said Medina. The garden will be called the Arroyo Quad and contain a statue of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

Archbishop Wenski thanked the Zumpano family for memorializing Gian with the aquatic center. “This is a good work that has been done here in the Jesuit tradition,” he said.

The Jesuits founded Belen in 1954 in Havana, Cuba. In 1961, the Castro regime confiscated Belen and all private schools. That same year, Belen was reestablished in Miami. The school has a capacity for 1,500 male students in grades 6 to 12 and has more than 6,000 alumni.

View of the Olympic-size pool at Belen Jesuit's new Gian Zumpano Aquatic Center.

Photographer: MARLENE QUARONI | FC

View of the Olympic-size pool at Belen Jesuit's new Gian Zumpano Aquatic Center.

Editor's note: This article been corrected since its publication. It originally said Gian Zumpano pursued admission to Harvard but his brothers cannot recall that; and his sister, Rosana, attended and graduated from the University of Miami but only swam for Carrollton.

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