ELLIS — The halls and classrooms of St. Mary Catholic School finally were filled with joyful noise once again as students gathered for a delayed first day of school Thursday.

The late start was due to heavy damage at the school during a July Thunderstorm. A microburst ripped nearly half the school’s roof off and several rooms received water damage.

The gym, where the east wall blew out leaving a gap between the wall and roof, is still undergoing repair and is not usable, but lots of volunteers helped get the classrooms ready.

The school was able to open earlier than its rescheduled start date.

“We weren't planning on starting until Monday but then we knew the floor was going to be done. It came down to the wire. We got done at 5:30 last night,” said Principal April Pfeifer.

“Everybody’s been great from the staff to parishoners, people I didn't even know or hadn't seen in years,” she said.

Classrooms and the hallways in the north wing have new flooring and ceiling tiles, insulation and sheet rock. There are still a few finishing touches needed, like paint in the hallway that should be completed this weekend, Pfeifer said.

The school day will be starting earlier, at 7:55 a.m., to help make up for the lost instructional time.

The only hitch to the start of the day Thursday was the realization the U.S. flag had yet to be put in place in the foyer, where students joined for the Pledge of Allegiance. They said the pledge anyway, followed by prayers and a reading from the Bible about not spreading gossip.

Then it was time for an assembly in the basement cafeteria, where Pfeifer reminded the students of school rules and also talked about the people who helped out.

The volunteers’ ages ranged from 8 to 81, she told the students.

Pointing to a display on the wall, she talked about the virtue for the year — faith.

“That’s a good one for this year. It’s faith that got our school open. It’s almost a miracle,” she said to the students.

Many of the students seemed more excited when Pfeifer talked about another volunteer effort — the new rubber mulch around the playground equipment.