Sophia Montessori Academy thrives in first year

Moira Cullings

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: Local artists choose life in pro-life art show

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For someone who’s always been in love with art, it’s not surprising that Brett Lempe first encountered God through beauty. Lempe, a 25-year-old Colorado native, used his talent for art and new-found love of God to create a specifically pro-life art show after a planned show was cancelled because of Lempe’s pro-life views.

Lempe was “dried out with earthly things,” he said. “I was desperately craving God.”

Three years ago, while living in St. Louis, Mo., Lempe google searched for a church to visit and ended up at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis.

“I was captivated by the beauty of the 40 million mosaic tiles,” he said.

Lempe is not exaggerating. This Cathedral is home to 41.5 million tiles that make up different mosaics around the sanctuary. Witnessing the beauty of this church is what sparked his conversion, he said, and was his first major attraction towards Catholicism.

Lempe continued on to become Catholic, then quit his job several months after joining the Church to dedicate himself completely to art. Most of his work post-conversion is religious art.

Lempe planned to display a non-religious body of artwork at a venue for a month when his contact at the venue saw some of Lempe’s pro-life posts on Facebook. Although none of the artwork Lempe planned to display was explicitly pro-life or religious, the venue cancelled the show.

“I was a little bit shocked at first,” he said. “Something like me being against abortion or being pro-life would get a whole art show cancelled.”

Lempe decided to counter with his own art show, one that would be explicitly pro-life.

On Sept. 7, seven Catholic artists displayed work that gave life at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Denver.

“Catholicism lends itself to being life-giving,” Lempe said.

The show included a variety of work from traditional sacred art, icons, landscapes, to even dresses.

Students for Life co-hosted the event, and 10 percent of proceeds benefited the cause. Lauren Castillo, Development director and faith-based program director at Students for Life America gave the keynote presentation.

Castillo spoke about the need to be the one pro-life person in each circle of influence, with coworkers, neighbors, family, or friends. The reality of how many post-abortive women are already in our circles is big, she said.

“Your friend circle will get smaller,” Castillo said. “If one life is saved, it’s worth it.”

Pro-Life Across Mediums

Brett Lempe’s Luke 1:35

“This painting is the first half at an attempt of displaying the intensity and mystical elements of Luke 1:35,” Lempe said. “This work is influenced somewhat by Michelangelo’s ‘Creation of Adam’ painting as I try to capture the moment when the “New Adam” is conceived by Our Blessed Mother.”

Claire Woodbury’s icon of Christ Pantokrator

“I was having a difficult time making that icon,” she said. “I was thinking it would become a disaster.”

She felt Jesus saying to her, “This is your way of comforting me. Is that not important?”

“Icons are very important to me,” she said. “I guess they’re important to Him too.”

Katherine Muser’s “Goodnight Kisses”

“Kids naturally recognize the beauty of a baby and they just cherish it,” Muser said of her drawing of her and her sister as children.

Brie Shulze’s Annunciation

“There is so much to unpack in the Annunciation,” Schulze said. “I wanted to unpack that life-giving yes that our Blessed Mother made on behalf of all humanity.”

“Her yes to uncertainty, to sacrifice, to isolation, to public shame and to every other suffering that she would endure is what allowed us to inherit eternal life.”

“Her fiat was not made in full knowledge of all that would happen, but in love and total surrender to the will of God.”

All photos by Makena Clawson