By Deacon Kyle Eller
The Northern Cross
In early February, officials with Stella Maris Academy, the diocesan Catholic school in Duluth, announced that they will be moving forward with plans to offer a high school education, beginning no later than Fall 2022.
Stella Maris was formed in 2017, with what had been four parish schools across the city formed into a single school on three campuses — Holy Rosary, St. John, and St. James — after a nearly year-long planning process. One of the key features of that plan was expanding beyond the elementary and middle school classes that had been offered by the four parish schools to what the late Bishop Paul Sirba described in announcing it as “a continuum of education pre-K through 12 for our families.”
Officials with Stella Maris this month said that offering high school has remained part of the plan.
The mission of Stella Maris is found in its Catholic liberal arts curriculum, which differentiates itself by a close link of academics and Catholic spiritual formation.
“Having been involved with Catholic school education much of my priesthood and with Stella Maris Academy since its beginning, I am delighted that the Academy will take this next step, adding a ninth grade by the Fall of 2022,” stated Father James Bissonette, diocesan administrator, in a press release from the school. “I have every confidence this will be a blessing for our families, the diocese, and the wider community.”
The move to open a high school took longer than perhaps was anticipated. In the interim, Catholic parents in the area formed Mater Dei, an apostolate offering a hybrid education model for high school classes, combining elements of homeschooling and a conventional school. Mater Dei, as an independent apostolate, is not directly affected by Stella Maris’ announcement.
Officials with Stella Maris say part of the difference now is strong enrollment — currently at 474 students — and “strong and stable finances.” Stella Maris will be able to draw from reserves to open the high school.
School officials have also determined that the school can use existing facilities to house the high school, keeping costs down.
Father Anthony Wroblewski, who last year was assigned as administrator of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary and who is a Stella Maris board member, told The Northern Cross that Stella Maris has found stability through its early years, getting used to being a single school, getting accounting aligned and salaries regulated, and so on.
He said the school, which no longer belongs to a particular parish, has also made progress in inviting Catholics and their parishes across the city to take ownership in it.
“And then I think, too, once we are able to gain the high school, I think that will give more impetus for the rest of the city to truly realize that this is their Catholic school, their Catholic academy, and it doesn’t belong to any one individual parish,” Father Wroblewski said.
He related it to his experience at his previous assignment in Brainerd, where St. Francis of the Lakes School has become a regional school. “I think that we’re well on our way here to doing that in Duluth,” he said.
Officials say the Covid-19 pandemic has also played a role, forcing the school, like many others, to learn and adapt and introduce new technology allowing remote learning, with implications for possibly helping provide Catholic high school education in other parts of the diocese.
“We’ve learned that we can overcome even a terrible pandemic, and our school can still thrive,” Father Wroblewski stated in the school’s press release. “Out of a dark time, we have this light of Catholic education that is shining brightly.”
The school is also seeking a new president, who will oversee the entire academy and lead it through the transition. The aim is to have the new leader in place by July 1.