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: Thomas Fitzsimons: The unsung Catholic Founding Father 

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As our nation celebrates the day of its independence and subsequent founding as a country on July 4, a look back some lesser-knowCatholic history of this historic event seems warranted.  

George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin: these are names every American knows. Pull out your wallet and you’ll likely see at least one of their faces on the money you carry aroundAnd while this nation was founded on principles rooted in Christianity, none of these men were Catholic. In fact, of the men history calls the Founding Fathers of America, only two were. 

Many may already be familiar with Founding Father Charles Carroll, a Catholic and signer of the Declaration of Independence, and whose brother John was the first Catholic bishop assigned to what would become the United States. However, Carroll was not the only Catholic who played a role in the founding of our country. The other was Thomas Fitzsimons, a name that is not mentioned much (if at all) in U.S. history classes but deserves to be recognized nonetheless.  

The unwieldy named Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia, published in 1887, paints a vivid picture of Fitzsimons and the way his faith informed his character. While the other Founding Fathers were meeting and deliberating about the Declaration of Independence, Fitzsimons joined the Continental Army anfought on the frontlines against the British army. 

Captain Fitzsimons commanded his company of militia until 1778, when France entered the war. British troops withdrew from Pennsylvania and began to focus on the southern states. It was at this time that Fitzsimons became more involved in politics at the state level. In 1782, he became a delegate at the Continental Congress. In 1786, he was elected as a Pennsylvania state legislator and served for three terms until 1789. In 1787, he was selected to represent Pennsylvania at the Constitutional Congress, where the United States Constitution was written and ratified. He, along with Daniel Carroll, were the only two Catholics to sign to Constitution. 

Born in Belfast, Ireland in 1741, not much else is known about Fitzsimons’ family. He had three brothers – Nicholas, Andrew and John – and one sister, Ann. He and his family immigrated to America as early as 1760, where they became residents of Philadelphia. It was here that Fitzsimons would stake his claim as a businessman and politician. 

In 1763, Fitzsimons married Catharine Meade, whose brother, George Meade, would later go into business with Fitzsimons and build one of the most successful commercial trade houses in Philadelphia. Throughout his life, Fitzsimons was in close correspondence with Bishop John Carrollthese letters revealed insights into the Catholic Founding Father’s personal life. In a letter to Bishop Carroll in 1808, Fitzsimons wrote of being married to Catharine for 45 years. Additionally, local baptismal records show that he and Catharine stood as sponsors at the baptisms of three of Meade’s children. 

In 1774, Fitzsimons began his first foray into politics when he was elected as one of 13 Provincial Deputies who were given authority to call a general meeting of the citizens. It is believed he was the first Catholic to have ever held public office in the budding United States. Even so, anti-Catholic bigotry was common at the time and did exist within some of his fellow statesmen, such as John Adams, who once said in an address to the people of Great Britain that the Catholic faith was “a religion that has deluged your island in blood and dispersed impiety, bigotry, persecution, murder and rebellion through every part of the world.” 

Fitzsimons’ first stint in public office was brief, only lasting from May to July, but it was a foreshadowing his future involvement in state affairs. As the Revolutionary War broke out in 1775, Fitzsimons formed a company of soldiers to fight against the British army. He was assigned to the Third Battalion under Col. Cadwalader and Lieut. Col. John Nixon, who was the grandson of a Catholic. Behind the scenes, as George Washington and the like organized committees and framed what would become the Declaration of Independence, Fitzsimons ascended to the rank of Captain and continued to serve his country as a soldier and patriot.

In addition to his tenure as a commanding officer and politician, Fitzsimons also found success in other ventures. In 1781, he helped found the Bank of North America, the United States’ first de facto central bank, and served as its director until 1803. The latter years of his life were spent primarily in private business, but he maintained a consistent interest in public affairs; even Fitzsimons wasn’t exempt from the old adage, “once a politician, always a politician.” 

Through all of these endeavors, and even after befalling troubled financial times in the early 1800s, Fitzsimons remained a diligent philanthropist. He gave immense support to St. Augustine’s Catholic Church in Philadelphia and was invested in the improvement of public education in the commonwealth. As one of his contemporaries wrote after his death in 1811, “he died in the esteem, affection and gratitude of all classes of his fellow citizens.” 

Fitzsimons was buried in the graveyard of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Philadelphia, which is now part of Independence National Historical Park. His name may not be a household one like Washington or Jefferson, but Fitzsimons can be remembered as something of an unsung Founding Father of the United Statesa man whose life of quiet faith, humble service and admirable patriotism exemplifies the values that this country was founded upon in a simple yet profound way.