The Dispatch: More from CWR...

First fully classical Catholic school in San Francisco to open

“Integrated Catholic education,” says Gavin Colvert, who is Head of School at Stella Maris, “cultivates the full intellectual, moral, and spiritual development of young people as whole persons to appreciate beauty, goodness, and truth and to act with integrity in life…”

Screenshot from the home page for Stella Maris Academy in San Francisco (

We are nearly the end of the annual National Catholic Schools Week, which began January 31st and ends tomorrow, February 6th. The National Catholic Educational Association describes it:  “National Catholic Schools Week is the annual celebration of Catholic education in the United States.”

But what is Catholic education? What are the challenges specific to that approach?

The first challenge is economic. It is an unfortunate fact that many who wish to have their children receive a Catholic education can’t afford it; conversely, many of those who can afford a Catholic education don’t want it.

But the second challenge goes deeper. It is the basic question: what constitutes a Catholic education? Is a religion class for an hour a week enough? Two hours?  Or does Catholic education, as was previously thought and taught, need to embrace the whole curriculum, thus forming the whole person? And is there any roadmap to doing this?

There is. Over the past decades some Catholic schools have adopted a “Classical” curriculum, rediscovering the wisdom of centuries past. This fall, the first fully classical Catholic School in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, the Stella Maris Academy, will be opening. The Stella Maris homepage describes the approach quite exactly:

Forming Hearts and Minds Through An Integrated Classical Curriculum” and “Our curriculum embraces all of the liberal arts and sciences. Theology serves as an integrating principle and the life of faith as what animates our love of learning.

The words ‘integrity’ and ‘integrating’  and ‘integrated’ appear several times.

“Integrated Catholic education,” says Gavin Colvert, who is Head of School at Stella Maris, “cultivates the full intellectual, moral, and spiritual development of young people as whole persons to appreciate beauty, goodness, and truth and to act with integrity in life… In school, we may have studied each subject separately from the others, including reading, literature, mathematics, science, social studies, theology, and the arts.”

“As adults in the workplace and the world,” he adds, “we realize that the most important questions and challenges in life cut across different fields of study. We need to understand how the different things we know connect and fit together to form a coherent and ordered whole in order to make wise choices. The natural experience of children is the same.”

It is important to note that far from being untried, such an approach has been used for centuries and reintroduced in the mid-20th-century at the highest levels: the famous “Great Books” programs at St. John’s College and the University of Chicago, followed later by the St. Ignatius Institute at the University of San Francisco, Thomas Aquinas College, and others. The advanced college curriculum is of course different, but the holistic approach is the same.

For Catholics the statement that “theology serves as an integrating principle”, which simply means that thinking with God and the Church is the way to put everything else in its rightful place, should be especially heartening.  It is a sad fact that much of today’s Catholic catechesis is lacking, skewed, or worse. Priests who have served in poor, third-world countries are often shocked by how much better the children in those poor countries know the faith than do their rich American counterparts.

Lay people who teach marriage preparation classes are shocked, but no longer surprised by participants who, while educated in “Catholic” schools, are ignorant or dismissive of basic Catholic teaching. Priests and deacons are happily surprised when, at a baptism or wedding, the family and friends actually know the proper responses. Centering ‘theology (as) the integrating principle’ is the way back to proper catechesis, proper practice of the faith, and proper living.

As the Stella Maris mission statement says:

Authentic Catholic liberal education is the education of human beings to exercise their freedom for excellence. The purpose of this sort of education is to foster the full intellectual, moral, and spiritual development of young people to appreciate beauty, goodness, and truth and to act with integrity in life. It is neither antiquated nor the expression of a particular political viewpoint.

Stella Maris Academy is now accepting enrollments for the coming school year. Base tuition is $10,000, and active parishioners in any Catholic parish (based on their pastor’s recommendation) will receive an “active parishioner discount” of $1,000.” Second child is discounted 15%, and a third child discounted 25%. The Academy also is able to offer significant scholarships and tuition assistance to qualified families.

Visit the Stella Maris Academy website to learn more.

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About Gibbons J. Cooney 9 Articles
Gibbons J. Cooney is the Parish Secretary at Saints Peter and Paul Church in San Francisco and volunteers with the Walk for Life West Coast.


  1. I haven’t had any experience with it, but “The Paideia Program” is probably the best method of teaching. The content needs to be Catholic.

    Back in the 1950s the religious sisters and brothers taught. If that was to happen again, there would be a huge reduction in costs.

  2. If the school follows in the footprints in those of higher learning, such as Thomas Aquinas College, it will have success. This is welcome news to all of the faithful.

    • This is great news and I am so glad CWR wrote about it. There have been many college level and secondary schools around country using various forms of classical education. There is even an organization helping Catholic schools convert to classical approach, called Institute for Catholic Liberal Education. Their network map shows the diversity already in this movement. Unfortunately only a few are diocesan schools. The strong classical homeschool movement keeps them on their toes, sometimes offering a hybrid approach. However it is tried, classical education by the Church built Western civilization and it can rebuild it again.

  3. As a priest I am no longer surprised by Middle and High School age students of Catholic families, who when asked to recite the “Our Father” at a close relatives funeral are unable to do so from memory. In order to encourage participation by youth family members I now carry a “cheat sheet” so that they may read the prayer.

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