As she reflects on her long family history with Notre Dame, an upper division junior looks forward to her next year and a half at NDP and an exciting future at Butler University.
When Notre Dame High School in Harper Woods was closed by the Archdiocese of Detroit in 2005, alum Paul Gaynor was more than disappointed. He graduated from the school in 1984, his brother Mark graduated the year before and brother John finished at NDHS in 1989. Their father, Ray, also is an alum along with Ray's twin brother, Ron, both members of the school's first graduating class in 1958.
But what Paul was most disappointed about was the fact that his own son, Nathaniel, was not going to be able to carry on the Gaynor tradition at Harper Woods Notre Dame. However, Paul and his wife, Rita, had a plan B. Or, to be more precise, a plan A, part 2.
They enrolled Nathaniel at Notre Dame Prep in Pontiac in 2008 and he graduated in 2012. Nathaniel's sister Celia graduated NDP last year (currently at Butler University) and another sister, Justina, is set to graduate in 2020.
“At Notre Dame Prep, it’s a place where it’s cool to be smart,” Paul Gaynor said. “And you can see a lot of the same things have been brought over from the Harper Woods school. There are a lot of things that are the same. Obviously the colors and the name. One main difference, though, is now there are girls involved, which is great for our family, and the education still is fantastic. From when I started in Harper Woods Notre Dame, it may be even better now. Bottom line, though, is that NDPMA has really got everything parents like us are looking for in a school.”
"Yes, I came to Notre Dame Prep because of my family’s long-standing history here," she said. "My grandpa, my dad and my uncles as well as my siblings and cousins all attended Notre Dame. I’m a third-generation student. But probably most important, it's the people, the atmosphere, and high academic standards here that were most appealing to me."
Justina began her NDP tenure as a freshman after finishing up grade school at St. Mary Catholic School in Mt. Clemens, Mich. She cites Notre Dame's inherent caring environment as one of the reasons she's happy and doing so well on the school's campus in Pontiac.
"The new friends that I've made at Notre Dame have been the most fulfilling part of my time here," she said. "I was the only student from my eighth-grade class at St. Mary to come to NDP, so I came in knowing very few people. But I made very quick connections to the Notre Dame family and community, and those are friendships I believe I will have forever."
Gaynor also brings up the school mission as another key reason she's glad she's been a member of that Notre Dame family.
"The school mission ensures that I am able to learn in a Catholic environment in which I have the opportunity to attend Mass regularly and participate in religious retreats and other campus ministry events," she said. "I also think becoming an upright citizen is closely tied to being a Christian person, which has allowed me the opportunity to give back to my community. The mission also means that I know I will be challenged in the classroom so that I can be well-prepared for the college course load that I no doubt will have in the future."
While only a little more than halfway through her junior year at NDP, Gaynor, who's also in NDP's International Baccalaureate program, already knows from where that college course load will come.
"I have committed to Butler University in Indiana to play soccer," she said. "I'm still unsure about a major, but as of right now I might be interested in something in the medical field. I am also considering a possible minor in music."
It's not just Notre Dame soccer that has occupied Gaynor outside the classroom. She's been playing club soccer for years and has played on Notre Dame's varsity basketball team since the ninth grade. She's also a member of the National Honor Society, the Spanish National Honor Society and is a board member on the NDP Varsity Club.
"The most fun part of Notre Dame by far is Irish Week," she said. "It is so great to participate with your class and compete against the other grades in all of the different events and activities. It’s really just a fun, fun week!"
Gaynor also doesn't have to look too far for on-site family support at Notre Dame Prep. That's because her twin cousins, Eric and Matt Gaynor, are also juniors at the school. And while she'll no doubt see her sister, Celia, when she gets to Butler University in the fall, she's got another cousin, Heather, a 2017 NDP grad and Eric and Matt's sister, who's currently at U-M, in case she needs still another perspective on college life.
So while it's likely going to be some time before we know whether any fourth-generation Gaynors will end up on a Notre Dame campus, Justina Gaynor has a message now for any parent or prospective student looking for a great elementary or high school education.
"Notre Dame is a very welcoming place with great people," she said. "It is a place where the teachers want you to succeed and they do everything they can to help you get there. The campus provides a safe environment in which to learn and the facilities and technology are top-notch. There are so many different things to get involved with at this school, and there is a fit for every person, whether that's in sports, clubs, theater, music, robotics, etc. I feel the time I've spent at Notre Dame is preparing me very well for college and has given me almost a natural extension of my own family that will last a lifetime."
Grandpa Ray, no doubt, would be very proud.
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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. The school's upper division 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 divisions enroll students in jr. kindergarten through grade eight. All three divisions 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