A culture of caring

Some 40 years ago, Willows Academy and Northridge Preparatory School were “founded by parents who wanted to offer a good education to their kids,” says Jim Paschall, president of the Willows’ board. Many of the parents had a connection with Opus Dei, so since then, each of the schools has had a full-time chaplain, a priest of Opus Dei who offers daily Mass and hears confessions. The Opus Dei’s local vicar also approves the schools’ religion and theology teachers.

Willows has classes for girls and Northridge for boys; both educate students from the sixth to the twelfth grades. In 1995, they were joined by Embers Academy, which has co-ed classes from PK3 to fifth grade.

With its small class size, Embers “is something you can get your hands on,” says Meredith Carpenter, who has two sons—one at Embers and one, an Embers graduate, now at Northridge. Parental involvement, she emphasizes, is very important at the schools. For example, she herself helps Embers evaluate books proposed by the local library “to make sure there is nothing that is not in line with the school’s mission.”

“We are among people who are living the faith,” says Maria Chapello, a labor and delivery nurse with children in all three schools. Many large families are attracted to the schools, including some with even 14 children. So, with six children, “we’re mediocre,” Chicago police officer Nick Chapello says with a smile.

Many of the students and their families participate in the local or even the national March for Life.

Tom Carter, president and CEO of Park Ridge Community Bank, has 14 children. Seven have already graduated and seven are now attending the schools. Among other things, he praises the advising program at Northridge. He notes that, for example, his son’s advisor called him and asked, “What would you like me to focus on?” The advisors are in union with the parents, provide personal attention, and are quick to “call if the kid seems to be slacking off,” adds Carter.

“These men truly care about the spiritual lives of our boys,” says Leo Gomez, father of eight boys and girls, speaking of his admiration for the teachers at Northridge.

The general high quality of the schools is definitely recognized on the outside, as well. Embers received the 2016 National School of Character Award. Niche.com ranks Northridge as the No. 1 best all-boys high school in Illinois and Willows as No. 2 for girls.

And the children’s lives after graduation continue to reflect on the schools’ success.

Two of Paschall’s daughters went to the University of Dallas upon graduation from Willows. Dallas “has a rigorous liberal arts program and my daughters were well-prepared,” Paschall says. One of the girls has gone on to nursing school and is ready for that challenge, as well, he notes.

Graduates also go on to schools like the University of Chicago, where the Chapellos’ oldest son was awarded a full scholarship for his prowess in the Latin language, and to schools like Stanford, Notre Dame, and Ivy League schools. They eventually follow careers in business, pro-life work, the priestly and religious life, and much more.

Gomez reiterates the spiritual foundation laid by the schools. “It came to fruition when the older kids went away to college. They were looking for a place to go to Sunday Mass and confession. I then knew the schools had succeeded,” he says.

MATTHEW MATUSZAK is manager of grants and publications for the Chicago-based Ukrainian Catholic Education Foundation.

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