Learning to lead

| Jennifer Janikula for The Catholic Spirit | May 7, 2015 | 0 Comments
St. Thomas Academy cadet staff in 1930. Its military identity continues to be at the heart of the 130-year-old school. Courtesy St. Thomas Academy

St. Thomas Academy cadet staff in 1930. Its military identity continues to be at the heart of the 130-year-old school. Courtesy St. Thomas Academy

The entire student body, also known as the corps of cadets, stands at attention in the St. Thomas Academy court during daily formation. With a strong, crisp, unified voice, they recite the Hail Mary and the Pledge of Allegiance. As the cadets settle into their “at ease” position, staff and students step up to the mic to share announcements and celebrate accomplishments at the Mendota Heights school.

Then, a senior student approaches the podium. With the school’s motto, “Ex Umbris in Veritatum” (“Out of Darkness into Light”) inscribed overhead, he delivers a five-minute speech to the entire corps. Honored guests including the student’s parents, grandparents and siblings, line the railing above the court.

At the end of the speech, the entire corps offers sincere, resounding applause and cheers. A large group of students surrounds the speaker offering strong bear hugs with their congratulations. The feeling of brotherhood is undeniable.

The senior speeches have become a highlight of daily formation in recent years. Though the subject and style of each speech varies, students usually express gratitude for their STA experience. The speeches, within the context of daily formation, demonstrate St. Thomas Academy’s unwavering commitment to develop confident young men with strong leadership skills.

From St. Paul to Mendota Heights

The tradition of daily formation dates back to 1965, a pivotal point in the school’s 130-year history, when the school moved from the University of St. Thomas campus to Mendota Heights. Archbishop John Roach realized the school needed its own space to thrive and grow. So with the help of many generous benefactors, the school established the Mendota Heights campus and became an independent entity.

“Archbishop Roach secured our future and allowed us to flourish and prosper,” explained Matt Mohs, STA headmaster and 1990 graduate. “Separating us from the college allowed our programs to grow, but our core mission remains the same.”

Since 1965, the changes have been mostly physical: the boarding house closed, the middle school opened and most recently, strong support from generous benefactors allowed construction of new facilities including the football stadium, the ice arena and Flynn Hall.

“We are blessed to have a community that supports us with facilities that give our young men access to a well-rounded education,” Mohs said. “The facilities build school spirit and make this place a home for students now and for the rest of their lives.”

Facilities like the new art studio, the band and choir room and the new gym, provide support for academic and co-curricular programs, explained David Hottinger, STA class of 1985 and director of institutional advancement.

“We have become even stronger,” Hottinger said. “The fine arts are embraced and new opportunities like our experimental vehicle team inspire 95 percent of our kids to get involved in activities and athletics.”

Catholic Mission

STA’s four pillars—Catholic, all male, college preparatory and military—still stand tall.

Father Thomas O’Brien, who serves as STA’s dean for Catholic mission, explained that the Catholic pillar is expressed through rigorous theology courses, a flourishing campus ministry program, service projects and a commitment to developing Christian gentlemen who are servant leaders.

“We try, in everything we do, to help young men develop as men for others — as men committed to service,” Father O’Brien said.

Students participate in school-wide service projects like food-drives and holiday gift collections, but STA also requires a 40-hour individual service experience, outside of school, before graduation — a requirement that many students exceed.

Students work with one of 40 pre-approved agencies to assist the elderly, work with inner city students, help the homeless, or care for the sick, mentally disabled or dying. Students reflect on their experience through a 10-hour structured journaling and social analysis project.

“The Church has always been about building a bigger and bigger tent and reaching out to those in need physically and spiritually,” Father O’Brien said. “Service projects help our students understand the needs of their brothers and sisters and experience the joy of responding to those needs.”

Building Leaders

The Catholic pillar and the military pillar find a common connection in Jesus, whose leadership serves as a model. The military curriculum at STA covers leadership and dilemmas from the beginning of time to present day — from Caesar to Enron. The military squads and the military co-curriculars provide opportunities for students to practice and apply leadership topics they learn about in the classroom.

“We learn so much about leadership from history,” said Michael DePuglio, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and STA’s commandant of cadets. “The leadership of people 2,500 years ago is still applicable to our world today.”

As the head military officer at STA, DePuglio hopes to form every student into a gentleman and confident leader who understands responsibility and commitment. The high school students reach this ideal through four years of increasingly hands-on leadership experience.

“In most schools, only a few get to lead. Here, everyone leads,” DePuglio explained. “It becomes second nature for them. We want them to be confident leaders in their home, church, community and world.”

Senior Connor Duffy, who currently serves as the student leader of the corps of cadets, values the leadership skills he acquired during his four years at STA. He understands how to be a good follower and a good leader. He knows the benefits of discipline, order, accountability and respect, but also values selflessness and family, he said.

Duffy defines family with the acronym, “Forget About Me, I Love You.” He explained that STA’s extended family made his experience great:

“Our family atmosphere sets us apart,” said Duffy, who plans to major in economics and play football at Pomona College in Claremount, California. “Students, parents, coaches, teachers, and alumni are really one big family.

We always have someone to help us and support us.”

Looking forward

While holding tightly to history and tradition, Headmaster Mohs hopes to find new opportunities to prepare STA students for the future. He embraces the challenge of developing students committed to justice and God’s mission in this increasingly unpredictable world.

“Our students need to be prepared to adjust and adapt quickly in a fast-changing world,” Mohs explained. “We need to instill in them academic skills and character skills to handle the changes. We need to prepare them for life, not just for college.”

STA maintains an enrollment of more than 600 young men in grades seven through twelve. Students from 11 different counties and a variety of faith traditions attend STA. Their families value the unique opportunities offered by the only Catholic, all-male, college prep military school in Minnesota, Mohs added.

For more information about St. Thomas Academy, visit http://www.cadets.com.

Tags: , , , , ,

Category: Local News