Chaminade joins ranks of Blue Ribbon Schools

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org
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Our Lady of the Pillar holds a prominent spot in Marianist history, inspiring Father William Joseph Chaminade to found the order 200 years ago.

While in Saragossa, Spain, in the early 1800s, French Father Chaminade prayed daily at Cathedral-Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar, which displays the small wooden statue depicting the Marian apparition, on a pillar, given to the apostle James the Greater in 40 A.D. Many sources record it as the first Marian apparition in history.

In prayer, Father Chaminade got the idea to found the Marianist family, the Daughters of Mary in 1816 and the Society of Mary in 1817. The Marianists went on to found numerous schools in France and in the United States, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Given her prominence in the order, it's probably no coincidence — Archbishop Robert J. Carlson would call it a "God-cident" — that Chaminade College Preparatory School has received a top national honor at around the time of Our Lady of the Pillar's feast day.

The U.S. Department of Education recently named Chaminade as a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence, among only 50 private schools and 279 public schools nationwide to be so honored this year. In 34 years of the program, Chaminade is only the 19th Catholic school in the archdiocese to be as a Blue Ribbon School.

Fittingly, president Father Ralph Siefert, SM, with input from the Chaminade principal's council, gave the school's 840 lads a free day to celebrate and reflect on the achievement. The day is Wednesday, Oct. 12 ... you got it, the feast day for Our Lady of the Pillar. Students embraced the free-day announcement with a loud ovation Oct. 4 at an all-school assembly.

"In Marianist lore, Our Lady of the Pillar is very important," Father Siefert said, adding that the principal's counsel had suggested "there is a tie-in between Our Lady of the Pillar and our Blue Ribbon achievement."

Father Siefert described the national honor as "an affirmation of all the good things we've done here. We've been hustling the last few years adapting all of the programs to the needs of the student."

According to principal Philip Rone, the key is the "family spirit" at Chaminade, a pillar of Marianist education.

"Within the family spirit is building relationships with the students, the teachers, the coaches and the administration," Rone said. "We purposely keep (enrollment) at a number we can handle, so you can build these relationships, so it doesn't get to big you become a number. ... the focus on building these relationships is a key to our success."

Chaminade educates about 270 middle-school students — sixth- through eighth-grades — and about 570 high school-age students. The enrollment represents 16 countries, with 65 students boarding at the school. Seven-year students comprise about half of a graduating class, and they have numerous opportunities to expand their horizons.

Chaminade takes pride in its Global Reach program, sending its students throughout the world in exchange programs in France, Australia, Central America and elsewhere. Students also take "experiential learning" trips to the Grand Tetons, Chicago, Washington D.C., Dayton, Ohio, and more. In addition, the exchange programs and the boarding aspect bring international students to Chaminade, and Chaminade taps into the Marianist network of schools around the world.

"It's an experience that can't easily be replicated," middle school principal Todd Guidry said. "To be able to go to school with students from Mexico, Sweden and China, all in the same class, it's pretty special and unique."

Chaminade also operates a "house" system, with the students divided among five groups, or houses. All grades are represented in a house, with seniors serving as leaders and also mentors to middle school students. The houses provide pastoral care for the middle school students, leadership opportunities for the seniors and cross-class relationships that are key to school culture.

In the academic arena, Chaminade ranks among the top schools in the St. Louis-area. It offers 27 AP classes, and some students graduate with enough college credit hours to start college as juniors.

So, you could say that, academically and socially, the Marianist school on Lindbergh Boulevard gives young men the tools to grow into the pillar of their communities. 

>> Blue Ribbon Schools

Chaminade College Preparatory School has joined the ranks of St. Louis-area Catholic schools to be honored as a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence. In all, 19 schools in the archdiocese have been recognized as Blue Ribbon Schools 21 times in the past 34 years, including the past two years in succession. Nerinx Hall High School and St. Louis University High School received the U.S. Department of Education recognition in 2015.

1983 • Cardinal Ritter College Prep High School

1984 • De Smet Jesuit High School

1985 • St. Monica School

1988 • Ursuline Academy

1990 • Nerinx Hall High School, Villa Duchesne School

1992 • St. Joseph's Academy

1994 • Cor Jesu Academy

1996 • Ste. Genevieve Du Bois School

1997 • St. John Vianney High School

1998 • St. Joseph School (Cottleville)

2001 • *Ursuline Academy

2003 • St. Peter School (Kirkwood)

2004 • St. Charles Borromeo School

2008 • St. Peter School (St. Charles)

2009 • Most Sacred Heart School (Eureka)

2010 • St. Margaret of Scotland School

2012 • St. Gerard Majella School

2015 • *Nerinx Hall High School, St. Louis University High School

2016 • Chaminade College Preparatory School

* — honored for second time 

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