Milestone year on tap

Founder of NDPMA reflects on 25 years of history as well as the next 25.

On Sunday, May 20, seniors in the 24th class graduated from Notre Dame Preparatory School receiving their diplomas in a moving ceremony held in the school's gymnasium. These 195 young men and women were headed to college armed with arguably the finest all-around educational experience available in Michigan.

Now, as the school continues to look ahead, administrators are keeping a keen eye on the immediate future for the school as it nears its 25th graduating class. According to Fr. Leon Olszamowski, s.m., NDPMA corporate president and founder of the school, he and other school officials are considering a number of unique ways to help celebrate the Class of 2019 and the school's 25-year milestone.

"I have several ideas for the 25th celebration, but Andy [Head of School Andy Guest] and others in our administration will need to review these as well," said Olszamowski, who will also be celebrating his 25th anniversary with NDPMA in 2019. "I'm hoping to have a big celebration to open the 25th year and then one to end it, perhaps. One in the fall and one in the late spring. I'm also hoping that such celebrations can also raise the status of the school in the minds of both our internal and external constituencies."

Olszamowski said that the school's new science, art and technology wing, which was completed in August, opened at a perfect time for such a celebration. Notre Dame broke ground for the $7 million-plus facility in June of last year.

The new building consists of a one-story science, technology and arts wing that is connected to the existing middle division and upper division wings. The wing houses science-laboratory facilities, collaborative-learning classrooms, a robotics lab, a specially designed greenhouse, and a fine arts studio.

But Olszamowski said the school is not hitting the brakes with other plans for the future.

The next 25 years

"We hope to be ready to announce our next capital campaign as we bring the anniversary year to a close," he said. "There are many projects on my wish list, including building a new a chapel, Ste. Chapelle de la Notre Dame de Victoire, using artifacts that include the stained-glass windows (most cast in 1900 in Munich, Germany, and some a little later in Chartres, France) and the Grand Casavant Concert Organ created in 1931 in St. Hyacinth, Quebec, which currently are at the recently closed Our Lady of Victories church in Boston. I have access to these items for free even though they have an estimated value of some $3 million in today’s dollars."

Olszamowski also said the school needs to start a substantial endowment as part of any new capital campaign and he'd like to raise at least $2 million to support programmatic and staff requirements.

"In addition, there are many upgrades necessary for the older sections of the building that should be undertaken during or soon after the anniversary year," he said. "At 25 years of age, we will now be considered a 'seasoned' school, not just a 'rookie' school."

Olszamowski also emphasized that he and the school's administration, faculty and staff need to remain laser-focused on staying critically aware of the mind, hearts — and especially the faith — of today and tomorrow's students and their parents. 

"Our Marist mission at NDPMA is a great one," Olszamowski said, "but in terms of the academic part of it, I would have to say that it's comparatively simple to create a great academic curriculum," Olszamowski said. "But it is a somewhat harder task to help people be good citizens of country, family, school and workplace. And within our modern context, it is also extremely difficult to raise good Christian persons, which is a matter of captivating the very soul of a person and helping them to live a clean, moral, just, merciful and loving life."

He said that with the many headwinds in our society today, NDPMA should long remain an accessible institution for parents looking to enroll their children in a good, quality school.

Marist schools unique

"I believe there really needs to be a Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy in our area to help develop those good people," he said. "Looking at graduates of Marist schools historically around the world to this point, I think we as a religious order have done a pretty good job of that over the last 175-plus years. I see the same kind of results here as I saw at Notre Dame in Harper Woods, and I have seen the same kind of Marist results elsewhere around the world. As an example, whenever our kids get together with students from our Marist School in Atlanta, there just seems to be an immediate bonding among all of them. It truly is inspirational to see." 

Olszamowski said that if the NDPMA institution can keep such a faith focus, and continue to share it with others, the school will survive well into the future. As to how he feels about Notre Dame completing its first quarter of a century, he is quite circumspect.

"In 1994, quite honestly, I thought the school had a 50-50 chance of survival," he said. "I wanted it to succeed, but there was also just as much a chance of failure. Back then, we had enough foresight to hire a psychiatrist from Boston, Russell Surveyer, to help us get a line on the staff and students here and to conduct our first faculty sessions. He was a tremendous help and gave us insights into the then-life of the school ands its people."

Olszamowski said most of what Surveyer predicted about people came true and noted that Surveyer also advised him to surround himself with people who carried the strengths that he did not have. 

"I've always followed that advice and believe we had hired — with God’s grace — a very good faculty, even to this day," he said. "Jesus and Mary have certainly shone a very favorable eye toward us. Also, I've always heard the words, 'location, location, location" is vital for a school's success. But Pontiac?! We now have a very good school; however, as noted author Jim Collins says, 'Good is the enemy of great,' so we have some growing yet to do to arrive at greatness."

A 'miracle school'

Olszamowski said that even as Catholic schools become rarer and rarer, they will continue to be a great source — perhaps the only source — for great Catholic leadership. 

"It's one of the reasons I have really pushed our staff to become a truly great school," he added. "If Catholics are true believers, they will want schools of excellence for their children, and even 25 years from now, I believe they will find one here. At the same time, we cannot afford to water down our faith or its practice. The church has always been about doing the right thing in terms of belief, praying, and moral practice. We do all three of those very well here. The Marists are working hard to help the staff and students 'catch and unleash the gospel' in the Marist Fathers and Brothers charismatic style — it's all about mercy, forgiveness and ardent love of neighbor."

With his trademark wry wit sprinkled with a bit of reflection, Olszamowski said he is delighted to have lived long enough to see the school hit 25 years. 

"This truly has been a miracle school — Cardinal Adam Maida’s words, not mine," he said. "I can see the hand of Jesus and Mary at work over these 25 years. I have many stories of how people and things that we've needed over the years seemingly have dropped into our laps at just the right times. At first, you might think it's coincidence, but after a few times, you see these events as responses to prayer and our devotion to Mary, our kids and to our mission."

Olszamowski noted that he's very glad that Andy Guest is doing so well in his role as head of school. 

"He is bright and talented, and he has a wonderful way with people — a much better fit for us at this time than at any other time in the school’s history," he said. "I am a mechanical organizer by nature. I love to start things, see them on their way and turn them over to competent people to carry them on.

For myself, it is time to move on. I have done my work and I look forward to continuing my ministry as a priest in quieter setting. In fact, if I had my druthers, I would retire in Wellington, New Zealand, which I love dearly. But short of that, I will likely retire to our Marist condo in St. Pete Beach, Fla., where I can be happy and at peace."

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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's upper 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 schools 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