After decades of anticipation, northern Colorado will have its first Catholic high school

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“No one hesitated to remind me that it was the fourth feasibility study for a Catholic high school in northern Colorado,” Dr. Margo Barnhart humorously told the Denver Catholic, stressing the longing parents revealed during the focus groups she conducted.

This desire that Catholic families in northern Colorado had displayed for nearly 40 years is now becoming a reality with the opening of the Chesterton Academy of St. John Paul II in Windsor in the Fall of 2020.

Its first campus will be located at Our Lady of the Valley Catholic Church in Windsor and it will begin with a 9th grade class, with the possibility of a 10th grade class. For many years, the closest Catholic high school has been Holy Family High School in Broomfield.

Dr. Barnhart, who serves as the Interim Executive Director for Chesterton Academy of St. John Paul II and conducted the feasibility study for the need of high schools in the Archdiocese of Denver, said that the longing of families came loud and clear in the surveys, which counted with the participation of over 2,000 families from northern Colorado, mainly Fort Collins, Greeley and Loveland.

“The main two things families wanted in the survey were a rigorous, classical curriculum and for the school to be authentically Catholic,” she said.

“Parents and principals from primary Catholic schools felt like there was no exit plan. [They] felt like their children had a wonderful, authentically Catholic education for the first eight or nine years at a small, intimate, safe, Catholic environment — and then it was a shock when they had to go to a public, charter or non-religiously affiliated high school.

No one hesitated to remind me that it was the fourth feasibility study for a Catholic high school in northern Colorado.”

“Consequently, a lot of parents started pulling their children out of the Catholic schools starting in 6th grade because they could enroll their children in charter programs at the middle school levels.

“Parents really felt that having an exit plan for their children after sending them to parochial schools was really important. And I can’t tell you how many parents told me that”, she said.

Deacon Robert Lanciotti, who serves as the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the new Chesterton Academy and ministers at St. Elizabeth Ann Seaton Parish, was happy to hear not only that a Catholic high school was opening in northern Colorado, but also that it would be adopting a classical curriculum.

Years before becoming a deacon, he served for nearly a decade on the board of directors at Liberty Common Charter School, which utilizes a classically oriented curriculum.

“I have this love with a returned classical education. When I became a deacon, my thought was, ‘This classical education is incredible, but wouldn’t it be better if Christ was at the center of it?’ I had a dream that we would have something like this happen,” he said.

e was pleased to find out that the Chesterton model had been chosen, even before he was invited to join the project.

“It really is the perfect blend of classical education with vibrant and faithful Catholicism,” he said. “The curriculum looked perfect, and the unanimous decision of parents for an authentically and vibrant Catholic school was a huge encouragement to me”.

The Chesterton Academy of St. John Paul II will be the first Catholic high school in northern Colorado and its campus will be temporarily located at Our Lady of the Valley Parish in Windsor. (Photo by Religious of Pro Ecclesia Sancta)

The Chesterton Academy of St. John Paul II will offer an integrated classical curriculum with robust spiritual and personal formation, which seeks to prepare students for both college and life. The model contains a strong emphasis on the fine arts, and its academic program is designed to help students think logically and critically in both the arts and the sciences, deepen their faith, and express themselves clearly and creatively in writing and in the arts.

The school will cooperate closely with the Archdiocese of Denver while remaining an independent, non-profit organization, with the blessing of Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila.

“What I hope parents would capture about this Chesterton Academy is that it is not just going to be a school that has good academics. We’re going to be teaching in a very rational way, where the faith is actually the center of everything. Every subject that we teach, whether it be chemistry, physics, history or economics, will have at its center the faith, and how faith and reason go together, and how the faith is actually something that complements these different academic disciplines,” Deacon Lanciotti, himself a molecular biologist, assured.

St. John Paul II was chosen as the patron of the school precisely because he embodied not only the school’s joyful character, but also its commitment to the search for truth under the light of faith and reason.

As the inaugural fall semester approaches, and the archdiocese continues its search for a permanent property, Dr. Barnhart is grateful to begin at Our Lady of the Valley Parish.

“We have beautiful facilities at Our Lady of the Valley. I’ve been a high school principal and an educator all my life, and I love the facilities we’re going to have. Of course, it will be a temporary situation… but the first thing we want to do is to get it open,” she said. “Hopefully we’re going to get so many kids that we’ll push to get the school built and moved.”

For more information, visit chestertonjpii.org.

COMING UP: Archbishop Aquila on ad limina visit, Pope Francis and more

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During his ad limina visit Feb. 10-15, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila was granted an audience with Pope Francis for over two hours where they discussed several topics pertinent to the Church today.

Archbishop Aquila was among a contingent of U.S. bishops representing Region XIII in the United States, which includes the states of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Wyoming and Utah. He along with the bishops of those states met with the Holy Father Feb. 10. With the release of Querida Amazonia scheduled just a few days later on Feb. 12, Pope Francis discussed the document produced from last year’s Amazon Synod with the bishops.

“He brought up the question of celibacy, and he said [his] primary concern is that Gospel be proclaimed in the Amazon and that all of us need to focus on Jesus Christ and the proclamation of the Gospel first,” Archbishop Aquila said in an interview with EWTN. “If they proclaim the Gospel and are faithful to the Gospel, then vocations will come forth.”

Archbishop Aquila with Pope Francis during his ad limina visit Feb. 10. (Photo: Servizio Fotografico Vaticano)

With much discussion surrounding the Amazon Synod and possible implications it would have for the universal Church, Archbishop Aquila was reassured by the Pope’s comments on synodality and the Church’s application of it.

“Even in the understanding of synodality, which we spoke about, it always has to be ‘under Peter and with Peter’ and that synods cannot be going off and creating things that they want done,” the archbishop said. “He made it very clear: that is not synodality in the Catholic understanding. That was very reassuring.”

Among the other topics the bishops discussed with the Holy Father were some of the challenges faced by the Church in the United States and how to address them.

“The Holy Father was very clear: He said transgenderism is one of the great challenges in the United States right now, and the other is abortion,” Archbishop Aquila said. “Both of them really deal with the dignity of human life and the understanding of human life and do we truly receive from God the gender that he has given to us.

Bishop Jorge H. Rodriguez with Pope Francis during his ad limina visit Feb. 10. (Photo: Servizio Fotografico Vaticano)

“There are only two genders, male and female, and so how do we open our hearts to receiving that as gift.”
Archbishop Aquila said that they Holy Father also “spoke of media, and how the far left goes after him and the far right goes after him, and neither one really presents who he is.”

In a time where Pope Francis’ comments can be rather polarizing and even mischaracterized, Archbishop Aquila was struck by the depth of the Holy Father’s faith in his audience with him.

“[The Pope] has a very, very deep faith. He is convinced of the Gospel, he is totally convinced of Jesus Christ, he is convinced that there are teachings in the Church that can never change and that we have to be faithful to the Church.”

Hannah Brockhaus of Catholic News Agency contributed to this report.

Featured image by Paul Haring/CNS