Category Archives: ISACS Schools: Catholic

Saint Louis Priory School


My first visit to Saint Louis Priory School was hosted by Father Gregory Mohrman, recently returned to the position of Head of School after a period of time serving the monastery in other roles.  I enjoyed a personal tour of the school and abbey and deep discussion on topics ranging from the of the accreditation process to principles of Catholicism. This was a moment in which I reflected on just how much I learn as I visit ISACS schools.


Priory’s mission is to provide a Benedictine, Catholic, college preparatory education of the highest excellence so as to help talented and motivated young men develop their full potential as children of God. Founded in 1956, today the school serves 432 boys in grades 7 through 12. Priory is sponsored, owned, and operated by the Benedictine monks who make their life at the abbey and is independent of the Archdiocese of Saint Louis. The faculty includes 16 monks and 53 lay teachers.

This recent video offers an introduction to the school:


What one aspect of Saint Louis Priory would Father Gregory most like to highlight for his ISACS colleagues? He states:

With a growing monastic community of younger monks (now totally 33), all of whom are committed to teaching and being active in our school, Priory is in a unique position to foster an atmosphere where the sacred and the secular intersect.  Throughout its 1500 year history, Benedictine monasticism has cherished learning, and has seen in education a path to greater spiritual awareness.  This is the legacy we can give to our students, and our graduates’ appreciation of the the values and perspectives they have received from their Priory education is a testament to the monks’ fidelity to their long tradition of handing on a vision of Christian humanism.

Visitation School

Students at front door

My second visit in Mendota Heights (MN) was to Visitation School, where ISACS Past Board Chair Dawn Nichols is Head of School. In addition to time to check in with Dawn, I enjoyed a campus tour with Maureen Barry, Assistant to the Head of School, Parent Program Coordinator, and member of the Visitation Class of 1982. Hearing Maureen’s observations on both the school’s evolution over time and its enduring values offered an especially valuable perspective.

Firing RocketsFounded in 1873, Visitation is an independent, Catholic school serving a co-ed student body in preschool through grade 6 and girls only in grades 7-12. As such, it is the only all girls’ secondary school in Minnesota. The school currently has the largest enrollment in its history. The 610 students come from the entire Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area and diverse socio-economic, religious, and cultural backgrounds.

Leadership and STEM programs are important additions to the school’s long history of strength in humanities and arts. A 1:1 laptop program in grades 9-12 supports the integration of technology.

Art SuiteThe school is guided by a mission to provide an excellent education within a Catholic environment permeated by Salesian Spirituality – the charism of Saint Jane de Chantal and Saint Francis de Sales that places emphasis on virtues of gentleness, patience, humility, and liberty of spirit among others.

The Sisters of the Visitation of Holy Mary, who founded the school, continue to serve on the Board of Trustees and live on campus in the monastery that adjoins the school. They are visibly acknowledged as a part of the fabric of the school’s history in references throughout the campus including a striking display in the school’s main entry foyer.

What one aspect of Visitation would Dawn Nichols most like to highlight for her ISACS colleagues?

Visitation’s constituents are a strong faith community committed to the future of the school. Alumnae share an unusually strong connection to one another both outside of Visitation and through school sponsored activities. Alumnae frequently return to campus to visit former teachers, mentor students and support special programs. Last year’s pool of donors to the school increased by seven percent and donations to the annual fund grew by 12%.

(Photos courtesy of Visitation School.)

Saint Thomas Academy

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Next I made my way to Mendota Heights, MN, for two school visits. First: a meeting with Matthew Mohs, new Headmaster at Saint Thomas Academy,  among the first schools to be accredited by ISACS (circa 1969).

Founded in 1885, Saint Thomas serves boys in grades 7-12 in a Catholic, college preparatory, military day school environment. Its focus is to:

  • Develop and nurture the intellectual, spiritual, moral, and physical potential of each young man.
  • Foster the knowledge and practice of leadership so that a young man has confidence in being a leader and in choosing which leader to follow.
  • Establish the foundation for responsible leadership within the Academy, the Catholic Church, and the community.

2014-12-11 11.00.44Shortly after arrival, I enjoyed watching “formation,” the school’s daily meeting that includes military tradition, announcements, and, often, a senior speech.

After a quick tour, Matt Mohs and I enjoyed some time to talk about Saint Thomas and his first months of headship. As an alumnus of the school (’90), he brings a distinct perspective to the head’s role.

When asked what aspect of Saint Thomas Matt would most like to highlight for his ISACS colleagues, he responded:

This school year, the Academy finishes its 99th and final year associated with the Army’s Junior Reserve Officer Training Program (JROTC). By transitioning to an independent military school, the Academy will be able to preserve the best of its military traditions while enhancing the curriculum for its all-male student body.

The cadets of STA often comment on the sense of brotherhood instilled in the student body. At its best, this brotherhood permeates the school with a strong spirit and camaraderie.



Sacred Heart Schools of Chicago

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I was walking east on Superior Street in Chicago on an early morning in June, heading to the ISACS Leadership Academy at the Kellogg School of Management city campus, when I came up along Nat Wilburn, Head of Sacred Heart Schools of Chicago, at the crosswalk. I had met Nat at the ISACS Heads Conference in 2012, so encountering him here was a pleasant surprise. Over the course of the Leadership Academy, a discussion developed about “customer satisfaction” surveys in the independent school context. Nat mentioned that Sacred Heart makes regular use of parent surveys. Following up on this thread, I invited myself for a visit.

And so it was that I visited Sacred Heart Schools of Chicago last week. I learned that Sacred Heart uses the ISACS Community Survey on alternate years, complemented on the other years by a questionnaire developed by the Sacred Heart division heads using Survey Monkey. Each year the results are analyzed by the administrative team and shared with the Board of Trustees along with a presentation of action steps to address concerns and perceptions as needed.

photo 3 (3)Sacred Heart is part of a network of 24 schools of schools in the U.S. and Canada, which, in turn, is part of a group of nearly 200 Sacred Heart Schools around the globe.  Nat Wilburn, the first lay head of school at Sacred Heart Schools of Chicago, is currently Chair of the Board for the Network of Sacred Heart Schools in the United States and Canada.

Schools within that network identify as both Catholic and independent. They share commitment to the global vision of Saint Madeleine Sophie Barat and five mission-based goals:

  • to educate to a personal and active faith in God;
  • to educate to a deep respect for intellectual values;
  • to educate to a social awareness which impels to action;
  • to educate to the building of community as a Christian value;
  • to educate to personal growth in an atmosphere of wise freedom.

A peek at the admission materials for Sacred Heart Schools of Chicago leaves one with a resounding impression of commitment to these principles including an emphasis on the value of inquiry and diversity of both community and opinion.

DSC_0115 (2)Sacred Heart Schools of Chicago comprises two schools within a single campus serving approximately 700 students. Kindergartners are organized in five co-ed sections, and then, in grades 1-8, there are two sections of girls and two sections of boys at each grade level. The girl’s sections are under the umbrella of The Academy of the Sacred Heart, founded in 1976; and the boy’s sections, under Hardey Preparatory School for Boys, founded in 1935.

What one aspect of Sacred Heart Schools of Chicago would Nat Wilburn like to highlight for his ISACS colleagues?  Sacred Heart Schools functions as one organization (with one administrative structure) serving boys and girls educated in gender-separate classrooms. This offers the opportunity to embrace the benefits of single-sex education and pedagogy that fits the developmental needs of its students, while remaining a robust, family-oriented community.