WARWICK — Chesterton Academy of Our Lady of Hope, the newest Catholic school to open in the Diocese of Providence, held its first day of classes on Tuesday, Sept. 5.
Located on Jefferson Boulevard, the Academy currently serves only grades nine and 10, but in ensuing years hopes to expand to include all high school grades.
The establishment of Our Lady of Hope was approved by then-Bishop Thomas J. Tobin in November 2022, and its expansion was further encouraged by his successor, Bishop Richard G. Henning.
Founded by local Catholics Michael Casey and Ed Walsh, the school is part of a network of Catholic schools called Chesterton Academies. Named after the British-born Catholic journalist, social critic and apologist G.K. Chesterton, Chesterton Academy schools place a strong emphasis on a more classical approach to education, with a particular point of emphasis in their curriculum being the study of theology, classical philosophy and literature, history and the arts.
Our Lady of Hope is located in the former St. Francis of Assisi School. While the school hasn’t been in use since 2009, the parish remained open until 2021, when it merged with SS. Rose and Clement Parish, along with St. Catherine Parish.
On May 31, 2023, the property was sold to Chesterton Academy of Our Lady of Hope for $1.3 million.
In many ways, the history of the school since then showcases the close-knit nature of the community, even in its nascent stages. Throughout the summer, both the academy’s faculty, as well as the families of students, worked together to make the necessary repairs to prepare for the start of the new school year.
“Throughout the school, we can see the marks of the different families who helped,” said Casey.
After the first day’s morning classes, the students gathered at 11:15 a.m. for daily Mass. The model of Chesterton Academy places a strong emphasis on the connection between the life of faith and the life of study. Students attend Mass every school day shortly before noon, followed by lunch and afternoon classes. The first Mass was celebrated by Father Doan Nguyen, assistant pastor of SS. John and Paul Parish in Coventry.
“I’m so happy that you’re all here,” Father Nguyen said in his opening remarks. “This Mass we offer for each of us, for our new school year, and we also pray for the world, for the peace of the world. We pray especially for our family, our parents, and a little bit bigger, for our Church.”
He then offered a prayer for the new students.
“I hope all of you study well, and always follow the example that Christ our Lord gives. And always focus on study, and that what you study should become action in Christ.”
The notion that study should always be coupled with or inspire a holier way of life is something that the teachers and administration at Chesterton Academy of Our Lady of Hope School strongly emphasize.
“Education is strong leadership, grounded decision-making based on morals, ethics, what Jesus teaches us, not just say it, but do it, and make those hard decisions,” said Casey, noting that a classical education couples an in-depth analysis of every major topic with moral formation.
As Robert Duffy, Ph.D., the headmaster of the school, put it, “One of the things I love about classical education is the focus on forming virtues, forming people to interact with the world, interact with themselves, in a certain way, to be somebody, and not just to know certain things. Knowing things is part of that, but there’s a big emphasis on forming big hearts, open minds, humility, curiosity and wonder, and it’s really beautiful to see children formed in those.”
More specifically, Chesterton Academy of Our Lady of Hope, as a Catholic school, aims at this goal “while focusing on the Source of all virtue, in Jesus.”
Duffy said that classical education has to be ultimately ordered towards good things, like civic virtue and rejuvenating the United States, but that even that is not big enough.
“It’s good to aim at those things, but it needs to be within the larger aim, which ultimately is aiming for God,” he said.
There are currently 16 students starting the new academic year at Chesterton Academy of Our Lady of Hope. While most of those students hail from Rhode Island, some come from as far away as Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Our Lady of Hope is the first Chesterton Academy school in New England. Students come from diverse academic backgrounds, including from public schools, homeschooling, and Catholic schools.
There are currently three teachers at the school: Dr. Duffy, who teaches classes in theology, philosophy and literature; Ms. Rebecca Scheurer, who teaches history, math, science, Latin and physical education; Ms. Rachael Garrepy, who teaches music; and Mrs. Christian Garrepy, who teaches art.
“Ultimately, what we are trying to hand on to the next generation, hand on to students, is a living faith,” Duffy said.
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