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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

New Catholic high school to open in downtown Spokane

Matthew Powell is the new headmaster of the Chesterton Academy of Notre Dame, a new Roman Catholic high school opening in fall behind the Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral. (Colin Mulvany / Colin Mulvany/The Spokesman-Review)

Promising to provide a high-quality, classical education, a new Roman Catholic high school will open this fall in downtown Spokane.

The Chesterton Academy of Notre Dame will hold classes on the campus of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes, headmaster Matthew Powell said Monday.

“Education should be about teaching kids how to think, not what to think,” Powell said. “We want our students to be challenged and to challenge each other.”

The school will be one of 25 within the Minneapolis-based Chesterton Schools Network, which describes itself as a “joyfully Catholic, classical high school offering a rigorous, integrated curriculum that unlocks each student’s potential.”

The national organization, named for English writer, philosopher and lay theologian G.K. Chesteron, was founded in 2008.

However, the idea of bringing a school to Spokane began only last summer after a conversation between Christopher Dewing, now the academy’s chair of the board of directors, and the Rev. Darrin Connall, the rector at Lourdes and aide to Bishop Thomas Daly.

At the same time, the idea won support from Daly, who sees the school as part of the mission of Lourdes and the church.

Since then, Powell said, the idea gathered momentum through word of mouth to parents of children currently in middle school. The school also has a website.

Powell said the school expects to combine some of the best qualities of two comparable Spokane institutions: Gonzaga Preparatory High School and The Oaks Classical Christian Academy.

“We share a lot of similarities,” Powell said of Gonzaga Prep, which was founded in 1887 and currently enrolls about 850 students.

“Gonzaga Prep is doing a very modern Catholic approach, the Catholic model of the contemporary high school,” Powell said.

Chesterton, by contrast, tries to offer a more holistic approach, he said. For example, a study of Virgil’s poem “The Aeneid” might be integrated into lessons on Roman history and culture, or the Protestant Reformation might be examined in the context of social and economic changes of the 16th century.

At its core, however, the curriculum seeks to integrate learning into faith. As Powell put it, “How do we explore the world so we better understand our relationship with God?”

The school, located in O’Connor Hall on the Lourdes property, will serve up to 40 students per grade, with a maximum enrollment of 160.

“We won’t be a threat to Gonzaga Prep,” Powell said. “We are a niche school, to a certain degree, for people who are looking for a classic Catholic education.”

Powell, who earned his Ph.D. from the Theology Department at Marquette University, has an extensive background in Catholic schools. His last position was president of Bishop McDevitt High School in suburban Philadelphia.

Powell specializes in church history, classical literature and modern philosophy. At Chesterton, he will teach in both the humanities and the fine arts.

In addition to Powell, the school has hired six “founding faculty” members in three departments. David Mosel and Claudia Kapusinski in humanities, Elizabeth Lancaster and Ivana Ackermann in fine arts and Michelle Oresky and Jenn Decker in math and science.

“We are extremely blessed to welcome such a high caliber of faculty to Chesterton Academy in our inaugural year,” Dewing said Monday in a statement. “Each of these individuals brings breadth and depth of knowledge in their academic disciplines and a sincere commitment to a Christian, faith-filled life.”