Girls high schools flourish in the spirit of their founders

4 mins read
Catholic schools
Students are pictured in an undated photo during a school Mass in the chapel at Seton High School in Cincinnati. (OSV News photo/courtesy Seton High School)

(OSV News) — Three different, all-girls Catholic high schools and college preparatory academies are no longer run by the respective religious orders that founded them, but all of them could be given A’s for both academics and adoration of the Catholic faith.

Northwest of Detroit, St. Catherine of Siena Academy in Wixom, Michigan, reflects in its educational philosophy the wisdom of its 14th-century namesake patron saint and doctor of the Church as well as St. John Paul II and his 1995 “Letter to Women.”

Principal Judith Hehs says SCSA’s mission is “captured in our motto: ‘If you are what you should be, you will set the world ablaze.'”

A 36-year veteran of Catholic education, Hehs arrived at SCSA just five years ago and oversees the school’s educational environment, its hiring of teaching personnel, and in short everything to “ensure that the original mission of the school’s founding priest — Father Richard Elmer, C.S.B. — is respected by carrying that mission out through a Catholic lens.”

Hehs especially noted the school’s teachers who “each bring something different through our front door — which itself takes people literally in two directions.”

Those directions are the SCSA chapel to the left and the academic area to the right.

The school presently has 216 girls enrolled in grades 9-12 — and a 98.7% graduation rate according to its website — with Mass celebrated daily.

As an independent school, SCSA has a chaplain, Father Anthony Camilleri, assigned to it by the Archdiocese of Detroit. Father Camilleri, who serves at Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Plymouth, Michigan, is assisted by various priests from other parishes during the week, and Hehs said, “We are blessed to have him.”

“He tailors his homilies to fit the lives of our women to the message of the Gospel,” Hehs said.

Lia Johnston, who has been involved with the school since its 2008-2009 academic year and serves as its president, noted the school will mark its 15th year of service in 2025.

Johnston estimated that 75% of school families are Catholic, with the rest being other Christians, “but we do not make distinctions and are very upfront with them about our religious program.”

“The impact that we make on the girls is one where we create an environment where they can be — and learn — about themselves,” she said. “We have had one young lady come into the Catholic Church and another one is studying to enter the faith now.”

“We nurture the ability to discover who they are, guiding them to understand their true selves and the purpose that God intended for them,” she said.

These experiences, Johnston noted, have led SCSA alumna to future paths such as “starting a pro-life club at university or pursuing a career in health care because of a (SCSA) mission trip.”

Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron holds a question-and-answer session with students from St. Catherine of Siena Academy in Wixom, Mich., April 3, 2019, during a pastoral visit to the school. (OSV News photo/Melissa Moon, courtesy Detroit Catholic)

The ‘Family System’

Notre Dame Academy, located in Park Hills, Kentucky, is the only all-girls school in northern Kentucky, and was founded by the Congregation of the Sisters of Notre Dame. While the sisters no longer run the school, they continue to sponsor its mission and maintain a presence.

Notre Dame Academy boasts a 100% graduation rate, with 98% of students enrolled in a four-year college and 99% offered scholarships, according to its website.

One of the school’s unique features is the “Family System” adopted in the 2022-2023 academic year to give students “the opportunity to connect with other students across classes and grade levels with whom they may not ordinarily have a chance to interact.” The four families are represented by their colors with their own patron saint: Pink Family (St. Rose of Lima), Purple Family (St. Hildegard of Bingen), Blue Family (St. Joan of Arc) and Green Family (St. Gemma Galgani).

Assistant principal for academics Molly Proudfit, who taught science classes for 14 years prior to her position and continues to instruct students in biology, told OSV News that it was “providential” that a Sister of Notre Dame was her department chair when she began her career.

“She showed me what good teaching looks like and how to set high expectations for students. I also witnessed how she ministered to students outside the classroom and supported them in their extracurriculars,” Proudfit said.

“This sister checked in on and prayed for those students who were struggling and she truly saw the student as the child of God that she was in all situations,” she said.

Faith at the forefront

Over at Seton High School in Cincinnati, campus minister Josh Mueller told OSV News that the school community is “focused on providing a supportive and prayerful space for our students, faculty and staff” for their academic and spiritual growth. The school was originally founded in 1927 by the Sisters of Charity, the order founded by St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.

“Our Catholic faith is at the forefront of everything we do here; in the classroom, through a sports team, clubs or extracurricular activities, faith is an integral part of everything,” Mueller said.

The 715 students at the Catholic college preparatory high school for girls — where 99% of graduates go on to pursue bachelor’s degrees — participate in a required theology program that Mueller described as “robust” and includes courses on Scripture, sacraments, morality, Catholic social teaching, vocations and interfaith studies.

Lauren Timmerman, a graduating senior and student chaplain, reflected on her four years at Seton as her final semester ends.

“Seton has opened my mind and heart to so many new opportunities I never would have dreamed of,” she said.

She highlighted the school’s “special way of integrating faith into our everyday activities.” As a student chaplain, Timmerman has helped prepare Masses, lead weekly rosary services, planned campus ministry meetings and helped classmates in their own journeys of faith.

“My faith life has also grown dramatically over these four years,” Timmerman said, “and I fully feel like a better version of myself.”

Robert Alan Glover

Robert Alan Glover writes for OSV News from central Kentucky.