Watch the 13-minute interview of Father Illo by Mary Rose on Stella Maris Academy and why classical education is better
I’ve been at Star of the Sea ten years now, and our parish school is honoring me at their annual gala on January 27. The gala raises money for students that can’t afford full tuition. As Dale Alquist once told me, to start a classical school is to commit to lifelong fundraising, so I am promoting our annual gala with abandon.
Six years ago the Archdiocese asked me to implement a “classical curriculum” in my parish school. It has not been easy, but Stella Maris Academy is now in its third year and flourishing. We are no longer a “start-up” but a solidly-established school with a growing reputation. By now it is expected at choral, debate, and writing competitions that Stella Maris students will walk away with top honors (we are not so proficient at sporting competitions but working on that!). By now, the Schools Department has come to expect exceptionally high standardized test scores from Stella Maris students.
But a classical academy delivers far more than test scores. It delivers joy to both students and parents (and priests). Parents tell me, sometimes with tears, that their children now want to go to school. They describe a newfound intelligence, self-confidence, and peace in their children. They can’t get their daughters to change out of their uniforms until bedtime.
Yesterday I visited speech and debate class at our school. I asked the students a difficult question: “Which world leader during the Second World War dismissed the Church with these sneering words: ‘How many [tank] divisions does the pope have?’” Three hands shot up. “Churchill?” the first student suggested. The second student said “FDR,” and the third said “Hitler.” I laughed: “You are all wrong!” But a fourth hand went up. “Stalin?” he said, and I congratulated him.
Think about this: How many fifth and sixth graders in America today know the names of all four world leaders during the last world war? And what kind of elementary school students will work through an historical question logically until they get to the truth? History, and use of logic to understand history, is one of the many distinctions a Classical Catholic education offers our children. Tomorrow’s leaders cannot guide us without a logical knowledge of history, for “those who do not know history are condemned to repeat it.”
With God’s help, we have accomplished what the Archbishop asked of us in 2018: to develop the first Archdiocesan Classical Academy. Beyond his request and expectations, however, we are now preparing to open Nativity High School in August. As many educators around the country have discovered, the classical K-8’s often add grades 9-12 before long because parents cannot imagine any other way of educating their children.
The Archbishop’s dream of a classical school has become a reality, but I would bet most of you reading these words have not seen it for yourself. And that’s one of the reasons we hold our annual Academy Gala, which is coming up on January 27. The gala raises money (70 percent of the parent club’s fundraising is from this single event), but the gala’s fundamental purpose is to showcase the school, to bring people on campus, to present the school in the living colors of its teachers and students. I began my journey to classical education six years ago by traveling to St. Jerome’s Academy near Washington, DC, for a training seminar. The formal sessions were excellent, but it was visiting the classrooms, talking to the students, and seeing the teachers in action that gave me a burning desire open such a school for San Francisco.
See for yourself by getting a seat at our Stella Maris Gala, which you can do HERE. Single tickets are $150, or you can buy a table and get a complementary seat. In doing so, you support students whose parents drive them from all over San Francisco to attend a school they could not afford without our help. Even if you can’t attend in person (as I’m sure many of you reading this blog cannot do), I encourage you to buy a “teacher ticket,” or make a gift on the link above by purchasing a sponsorship.
Stella Maris has asked me to deliver the keynote this year, honoring the parish’s 130th and the school’s 115th anniversaries, and my own 10th anniversary at the parish. I will be offering some small works of art that I’ve purchased over the years, in addition to live auction items (among them a guided kayak adventure on the Bay). I hope to see some of you at the gala this year, and I thank you in advance for supporting our school from afar as well.
From Father Illo’s Blog