‘Our journey of 25 years’

The fall issue of IRISH magazine featured a wonderful commentary by school founder Fr. Leon Olszamowski, s.m., who riffs on what the school has meant for thousands of students since it took over the campus reins from Oakland Catholic High School in 1994. 

A star is born

Under the mantle of Mary, a child was born on July 1, 1994. We called it Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy.

By Fr. Leon Olszamowski, s.m.                    
Corporate President and Founding Principal

Schools are like people who grow and develop a sense of identity over time and, ultimately, stand on their own two feet. Our Notre Dame was nurtured, valued and loved along the way by Mary, the Mother of God’s “gracious choice” as mediated through the Marist Fathers and Brothers, Cardinal Adam Maida, the Pontiac Area Vicariate pastors, our Board of Trustees, generous parents, and caring staff members. 

Our journey of 25 years has turned a swaddling infant into a prosperous young adult. Along the way, our community has garnered a solid reputation as it has “worked with God to form Christian people, upright citizens and academic scholars.” Congratulations to our current student body and our alumni for making the Notre Dame schools what they are today.

We are what we are today because we espouse valid educational assumptions that have bred powerful interior values and virtuous approaches to learning, living and doing. This “miracle school,” as Cardinal Adam Maida often calls it, has been recognized as the top Catholic school in the state of Michigan (Niche.com) four out of the last five years and the 57th best of nearly 1,200 Catholic high schools in the United States. It is a school that is internationally, nationally and locally recognized as a high performer in academics, the arts and athletics — an awesome track record for a relatively young school celebrating its silver anniversary this year. We firmly believe we will be even better when we celebrate our golden anniversary.

Visitors to our Pontiac campus have often told us that they sense a palpable solidness and peace, and there is a powerful reason for that. From the beginning of this newest U.S. Marist school, the Venerable John-Claude Colin’s assumptions are interiorly espoused and externally lived out by our Notre Dame community. 

We Marist fathers and brothers believe and teach that God is a lover who desires a relationship with his creation of which we humans beings are stewards; that Jesus Christ suffered and died for our sins, modeling for us the perfect life of grace; and that Mary (Notre Dame), the icon of the Holy Spirit, by her “yes” to the angel Gabriel, is the Mother of God and Mother of the Church. 

Mary is the perfect disciple of Christ, and Notre Dame families are called to think, judge, act and feel as Mary, i.e., we are to nurture a healthy relationship with God, do the work of Mary by showing an ardent love of neighbor, and live a life that is simple and humble. Above all, we are to show merciful love to others as God has shown merciful love to us. The above values are, in a nutshell, why this school is so successful. We have a great Marist tradition: we use our limited resources wisely, and we have inspired students and staff.

Often, parents and students come to our school for the academics, but soon they find out there is much more to be had here on Giddings Road. They discover that we are also working with God to create clean-living, Christ-like people and productive citizens. 

The philosopher Heraclitus said that “the only constant is change,” and we, as a school community, are embracing a rapidly changing world. Now, beginning our 26th year as a robust young adult community at Notre Dame, we have arrived at the point of our life to plan and build what I like to call “Notre Dame 2.0.” We began about 15 years ago when we embraced the International Baccalaureate programs to practice “best-in-class” student pedagogy. 

The IB and its “Approaches to Teaching and Learning” root our curriculae from Pre-K through 12th grade. More recently, we have made significant changes to our campus and our academic offerings. This year we even adopted a new rotating schedule. The new Easterwood Wing also perfectly models our embrace of change as we teach more strategic thinking and problem-solving in disciplines like robotics, computer science and food production.

As an older generation of teachers and administrators moves toward retirement, they continue to serve as fine mentors to those who will perfect Notre Dame 2.0. And the future lies in the hands of younger, more vibrant administrators and staff members who must, as a matter of course, set out as good stewards “bringing out from the storehouse the best of the old and the new.” 

This new generation of Notre Dame leaders are slowly pouring old wine into new wineskins as they catch up to and reach out to a world of many new generational characteristics and personal needs. Those new characteristics and needs must first be learned and then applied to enhance our classroom teaching, athletics and arts. The look and feel of Notre Dame better matches Gen Z’s needs and we work hard to anticipate future student needs.

As one of the original founders, I am proud to say that we’re hardly skipping a beat in the process of change and that our school is moving along “just fine” as we develop new tools to think through and answer tomorrow’s questions.

Head of School Andy Guest shares his own thoughts on the 25th anniversary of Notre Dame in an accompanying article on page 4 of this magazine. He will work with our Board of Trustees to bring those aspirations to fruition. I am happy to say that as I move into retirement over the next few years, I have left our school in very good hands!

Comments or questions? mkelly@ndpma.org.

Follow Notre Dame on Twitter at @NDPMA.
About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy
Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. Notre Dame Preparatory School enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower schools enroll students in pre-kindergarten through grade eight. All three school are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." NDPMA is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers and is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school's home page at www.ndpma.org