Sophia Montessori Academy thrives in first year

Pauline Meert and Irene O’Brien were both working on their Master’s degrees on separate continents with little financial security when they decided it was the perfect time to open a school.

Although they laugh at the circumstances now, the women’s trust in God at the time helped them follow that call despite of the chaos of life.

“We decided there was no clear path,” said O’Brien. “But we also felt a lot of peace with that. If we just said ‘Yes,’ the doors kept opening. Things would just unfold the way they were supposed to.”

The women had dreamed for years of starting their own Montessori school, and the journey toward it was filled with uncertainties, but the bumps along the way always seemed to work themselves out.

“To us it just felt like God’s voice saying, ‘Don’t give up now. Keep trying,’” said O’Brien. “And so we did.”

Their dream became a reality in February when Sophia Montessori Academy opened its doors in Denver. The school now has 28 students ages three to six. Meert and O’Brien are the main teachers and have help from assistant teachers Emma Hecker and Teresa Warhola.

The school’s classroom is bustling with hands-on activities that embody the Montessori approach of learning crafted by Maria Montessori.

“What Doctor Montessori did is bring the curriculum to life and make it accessible to the growth and development of the child,” said O’Brien.

The school incorporates the Byzantine Catholic faith, which goes hand-in-hand with the Montessori education, said Meert.

“One of the things that’s not often known is that Montessori herself was Catholic,” she said. “Her work was very Catholic in its understanding of the human person, through learning how God made us to be, and what works best at what ages.”

The classroom at Sophia Montessori caters to its students through its small furniture, tangible materials, one-on-one lessons, and freedom to explore within the boundaries of the classroom.

“At this age, children need to be involved,” said Meert. “They want to know about their world.”

Denver, CO, May 10 2018: Sophia Montessori Academy was started by Pauline Meert and Irene O’Brien. The school opened its doors in February. (Photo by Moira Cullings)

Offering the children less structure and more freedom within the classroom is one way to incorporate Catholic teaching, said Meert.

“The children know what the boundaries are, and they have freedom within that,” said Meert. “It’s a true understanding of the freedom God gives us.”

O’Brien explained that students at Sophia Montessori can accomplish learning tasks such as counting to 1,000 because they learn in a way that makes sense to them.

“If they have this foundation of numbers and number patterns, when they’re in first grade it’s going to be a lot easier for me to introduce algebra as a system that’s fun, enjoyable and accessible,” said O’Brien.

“That’s what Montessori is — understanding the child’s needs and then the education is tailored to the child’s learning abilities,” she said.

Through that tailoring, the women have discovered that the children find more joy in learning.

“They have a certain self-confidence and desire to learn more because they have this foundation,” said O’Brien.

Meert and O’Brien hope their students take that joy with them throughout their education.

“We want to be able to see education always be joyful and productive and to really have that love of learning continue on,” said Meert.

To celebrate the families who helped open Sophia Montessori and to raise funds for the school’s future, the teachers are hosting a gala on June 2 from 6:30-9:30 p.m. at the Curtis Ballroom at Landmark in Greenwood Village.

“[We want to] celebrate the families who did so much to really get this started,” said O’Brien. “Our other goal for the fundraiser is to start building up the funds so that we can offer tuition assistance and so we can finish paying off the costs of renovation.”

Anyone interested in the mission and vision of Sophia Montessori is invited to attend.

The women have high hopes for Sophia Montessori’s future and look forward to where the journey will lead them.

“The dream is huge,” said Meert. “This is just one step. We’re just rejoicing in that.”

Sophia Montessori Gala

June 2 from 6:30-9:30 p.m.

Curtis Ballroom at Landmark

5345 Landmark Pl. Greenwood Village, 80111

To register for the gala, visit sophiamontessori.com/gala18.

COMING UP: Swole.Catholic helps people strengthen body and soul

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St. Augustine once said, “Take care of your body as if you were going to live forever; and take care of your soul as if you were going to die tomorrow.”

Humans are both body and soul and both must be strengthened. This is the reason for the existence of Swole.Catholic, a group of people who dedicate themselves to nurturing their soul while strengthening their body, and through their ministry, motivate others to do the same.

According to Paul McDonald, founder of Swole.Catholic, they focus on encouraging faithful fitness. “We must take care of our temple of the Holy Spirit, because our bodies are one of God’s greatest gifts to us,” he said.

McDonald solidified the idea of faith and fitness when he was a sophomore in college. While “going through a huge moment in my life, at the same time I was really learning about the gym and learning ethical statements on my own. Both things clicked together,” he told the Denver Catholic. As a young guy, he started bible studies, and in those studies, he always had an analogy back to the gym.

He decided to make shirts for him and the guys in the bible study during his senior year. The shirts ended up becoming good conversation starters, and he decided he needed to do something with it — evangelize and motivate others to take care of their body and soul.

Thus Swole.Catholic was born. “Swole” is a slang term for bulking one’s muscles up from going to the gym, and of course, the Catholic part is self-explanatory — not only because of the Church but also for our faith and how it defines us in all we do. Swole.Catholic launched officially in Jan 2017.

The ministry consists of a website which provides resources to helps people with Catholic gyms, Catholic workouts, Catholic trainers, podcasts as well as workout wear.

The workout wear works as an evangelization tool. The word “Catholic” is printed on the front of the shirts and a bible verse is placed on the back.

“This raises questions or interest in others. It also works as a reminder of the purpose of the workout,” McDonald said. He added, “Most of the gyms we are going to have mirrors and all that, making you focus into yourself.” But the real purpose of the workout, as the members of Swole.Catholic say, is to strengthen your body and soul to live a healthy life.

Swole.Catholic also has rosary bands, a simple decade wrist band that people can wear while they workout and be flipped off at any time to pray a quick decade.

“Because everyone’s faith journey is different and everyone’s fitness journey is different, what we are trying to do is connect people with people [for them] to be able to have the correct support with their faith and fitness,” McDonald said.

That is why Swole.Catholic now has outposts around the country, with passionate Catholic members who love to help and inspire others in the fitness world while pursuing God in everything they do.

“Each one has its own flavor,” McDonald said. “In Florida we have a rosary run group where a bunch of girls meet up and pray rosary while they go for a run.” Among the outposts, there is also a group of guys in North Dakota who do a bible study and lift together. Similar to these two groups, members from other states have formed their own Catholic fitness groups and are now part of Swole.Catholic, including in Texas, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Ohio and Wyoming and more.

“We encourage faithful fitness,” McDonald concluded. “We think your fitness fits in your faith as much as faith fits in your fitness. We are body and soul and we need to be building both.”

To join a group or a workout, visit swolecatholic.com or find them on Facebook.