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: Transforming quarantine into retreat

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This bruising Lent, in which “fasting” has assumed unprecedented new forms, seems likely to be followed by an Eastertide of further spiritual disruption. What is God’s purpose in all this? I would be reluctant to speculate. But at the very least, the dislocations we experience – whether aggravating inconvenience, grave illness, economic and financial loss, or Eucharistic deprivation – call us to a more profound realization of our dependence on the divine life given us in Baptism: the grace that enables us to live in solidarity with others and to make sense of the seemingly senseless.

If we cooperate with that grace rather than “kick against the goads” (Acts 26:14), it can enable us to transform quarantine, lockdown, and the interruption of normal life into an extended retreat, a time to deepen our appreciation of the riches of Catholic faith. Dioceses, Catholic centers, and parishes are offering many online opportunities for prayer, thereby maintaining the public worship of the Church. Here are other resources that can help redeem the rest of Lent and the upcoming Easter season.

* Shortly before the Wuhan virus sent America and much of the world reeling, I began watching Anthony Esolen’s Catholic Courses video-lectures on the Inferno, the first part of Dante’s Divine Comedy. I’ve long admired Tony Esolen’s Dante translation and his lucid explanation of the medieval Christian worldview from which Dante wrote; and there was something fitting about watching Esolen accompany Dante and Virgil through hell during a hellish Lent. Professor Esolen’s explication of Dante’s Purgatory and Paradise (also available from Catholic Courses) are just as appropriate these days, however. For the entire Comedy is a journey of conversion that leads to the vision of God; and that is precisely the itinerary the Church invites us to travel during Lent, as the Forty days prepare us to meet the Risen Lord at Easter and experience the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

* Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was arguably the greatest papal homilist since Pope St. Gregory the Great in the sixth century. The March and April sermons in Seeking God’s Face: Meditations for the Church Year (Cluny Media), help put the trials of this Lent and Eastertide into proper Christian focus.

* I’ve often recommended the work of Anglican biblical scholar N.T. Wright. Two chapters (“The Crucified Messiah” and “Jesus and God”) in The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is (InterVarsity Press) make apt Lenten reading in plague time. The fifth chapter of that small book, “The Challenge of Easter,” neatly summarizes Dr. Wright’s far longer and more complex argument in The Resurrection of the Son of God (Fortress Press) and makes a powerful case for the historical reality of the Easter events. Like Wright, Pope Emeritus Benedict’s reflections on the empty tomb and the impact of meeting the Risen One in Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week (Ignatius Press) underscore the bottom of the bottom line of Christianity: no Resurrection, no Church.

* Bishop Robert Barron’s Catholicism series is the greatest audio-visual presentation of the faith ever created. If you’ve never watched it, why not now?  If you have, this may be the time to continue with Bishop Barron’s Catholicism: The New Evangelization (an exploration of how to put Catholic faith into action) and Catholicism: The Pivotal Players (portraits of seminal figures in Catholic history who did just that – St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Catherine of Siena, St. John Henry Newman, G.K. Chesterton, and Michelangelo).

* Pope St. John Paul II’s centenary is the Monday following the Fifth Sunday of Easter: an anniversary worth celebrating, whatever the circumstances. The first 75 years of this life of extraordinary consequence for the Church and the world are relived in the documentary film, Witness to Hope – The Life of John Paul II. Liberating a Continent, produced by the Knights of Columbus, is a stirring video evocation of John Paul’s role in the collapse of European communism – and a reminder, in this difficult moment, of the history-bending power of courage and solidarity.

* The Dominican House of Studies in Washington and its Thomistic Institute are intellectually energizing centers of the New Evangelization. The good friars are not downing tools because of a pandemic; rather, they’re ramping up. Go to thomisticinstitute.org to register for a series of online “Quarantine Lectures” and an online Holy Week retreat. At the same home page, you’ll find Aquinas 101, 52 brief videos that make one of Catholicism’s greatest thinkers accessible to everyone, free and online, through brilliant teaching and striking animation.

And may the divine assistance remain with us, always.