Chesterton Academy students begin studies at new St. Paul campus

| September 1, 2017 | 0 Comments

Chesterton Academy co-founder Dale Ahlquist and Father John Paul Erickson cut the blue ribbon Aug. 28 to celebrate the first day of classes at the school’s new campus in St. Paul. The Edina-based Catholic school opened a new campus at Blessed Sacrament in St. Paul, where Father Erickson serves as pastor, to accommodate students living in the eastern Twin Cities. Chesterton students (left-right) Caecilia Hipp and Bridget Kaari held the blue ribbon for the ceremony. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Chesterton Academy opened its new campus in St. Paul Aug. 28 as 19 students began their school year.

The Edina-based Catholic school expanded to the new campus to accommodate the growing interest among families in the eastern Twin Cities.

“It was never our idea as a school. It was always a group of parents that wanted a Chesterton Academy out east because it was too far to travel to our present campus,” said Dale Ahlquist, a co-founder of Chesterton Academy in Edina.

“We don’t have expansion plans per se; we just simply want to go where we’re wanted,” Ahlquist added. “The idea is to have small schools as are they are needed and as there’s interest for them rather than having one large school.”

Students at the new campus include 15 freshmen and four juniors. A couple of juniors once made the trek from the east metro to the Edina campus.

Bridget Kaari traveled from Stillwater to Edina. She had anticipated the St. Paul campus opening sooner than 2017 but still wanted to attend Chesterton.

“It was a lot of sacrifice on my family’s part, and it was really hard on me, but it was completely worth it,” said Kaari. “I would do it again in a heartbeat because I love the school.”

Kaari has her commute cut in half with the St. Paul campus. She also felt at home on the first day at the new site.

“There’s just the same joy and energy here,” Kaari added. “The most important thing is everybody’s enthusiastic, and everybody wants to be here, and everybody is on fire for their faith.”

The new location opened the door for Woodbury resident Anna Damm to choose Chesterton. She said her family wanted her to attend but knew the cross-metro trip to the Edina campus wouldn’t work for them.

“It’s really different from what I’m used to, but I think it has potential to grow especially,” said Damm, who previously attended Trinity School at River Ridge in Eagan.

While some students attended other schools before Chesterton, a number came from home-school co-ops. Freshman Max Rosenthal, who had been homeschooled, said he looks forward to making new friends.

“I’ve really enjoyed it,” Rosenthal said of the first day.

Freshman Jack Foley, who also came from a home school co-op, likes having a small learning community. He said he liked teacher Shane Dowell’s interactive approach for his Latin class.

“It’s a breath of fresh air for so many students,” Chesterton headmaster Dave Beskar said about the new campus.

Beskar serves primarily at the Edina campus but will also spend time at the St. Paul campus. The school placed two full-time teachers, Dowell and Greg Billion, to lead and supervise the students. The campus also has a few part-time teachers.

Though 40 minutes away, the Edina campus shares the same administrative staff and school-wide events such as choir concerts with the St. Paul campus. The east metro site will have its own extracurricular activities however.

“It’s really a joint effort,” Beskar said of the two campuses working together.

With a small student body and staff, that St. Paul campus can become a tight-knit community.

“The personal relationships that can develop between the teacher and the student are the building blocks of a school and the life of a school,” Billion said. “I think that’s really going help this campus get off the ground.”

Chesterton chose Blessed Sacrament in St. Paul as the site after years of searching and consideration for an east metro campus. The school will rent the parish facilities for two years before searching for a long-term home. Beskar said the small facility served as good place to start.

“It’s beautiful [and] it’s peaceful,” Beskar said. “There’s something really special about small schools.”

Father John Paul Erickson, the pastor of Blessed Sacrament, said he had been working to bring Chesterton to the parish campus. The parish has a small wing of classrooms, a small social hall to serve as a cafeteria and a youth room upstairs to serve as a recreation area.

“It’s not real spacious, but for the kind of beginnings that they were looking for, it seemed to me that they would be a great fit,” Father Erickson said.

Though he is not canonically the chaplain, Father Erickson will have a presence on campus and celebrate Mass daily for the students. He also hopes school’s presence will benefit the parish too.

“Part of the reason I pursued Chesterton so strongly is because I strongly believe the presence of a vibrant school within our parish will be a source of life for my community,” Father Erickson said.

He added that the parish has lots of participation in activities but also has an aging community. He considers the school “a deliberate investment” for the parish’s future.

“We need to bring young families to our doors if we are going to continue to be a presence on the east side,” Father Erickson said.

Chesterton has been bringing families to its doors since opening nine years ago in Edina. Interest in the Chesterton classical education spread as other Chesterton-based schools have opened around the country, which formed the Chesterton Schools Network.

Besides traditional subjects such as math and science, students study four years of theology, Latin, philosophy, visual arts, choir and drama.

“Our students get a very complete education in four years,” Ahlquist said. “We also try to keep it as affordable as possible.”

Chesterton, named for early 20th-century writer and Catholic GK Chesterton, wrote articles and books on many social issues the modern world still faces today. The church has been studying his life and works in recent years for consideration of opening a cause for canonization.

“He represents the model thinker that we want all of our students to become,” Ahlquist said.


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