Former Saint Ignatius President Rev. Robert J. Welsh, S.J. ’54 had a dream: to create a school for urban middle school boys who could be successful at Saint Ignatius if given the right opportunities. He even knew whom he would name it for: Oscar Romero, the Salvadoran archbishop and martyr known for his strong stance against poverty and injustice.
In May 2018, Welsh’s dream took a giant step towards becoming a reality when the Saint Ignatius Board of Regents voted to move forward with plans for an academy, a school for 6th-8th grade boys from low-income families.
Shortly after the vote, Saint Ignatius President Fr. Raymond Guiao, S.J. '82 traveled to Columbiere, a Jesuit retirement community in Michigan, to share the good news with Fr. Welsh. He also had a question.
“Bob,” Guiao asked, “Can we name the academy after you?”
The humble, elder Jesuit resisted the idea at first, but gradually came around. As it stands today, plans are moving forward for implementation of The Welsh Academy.
When launched, the school would welcome 25 boys per grade for a rigorous and enriching experience that would prepare them academically, socially and spiritually for the rigors of a college-prep high school experience. The academic year would run longer than that of the high school, following a model that has already been established at a few other Jesuit high schools throughout the United States.
“We’re asking, ‘Who are those folks that are marginalized in Cleveland in 2019 and do they really have access to a school like Saint Ignatius?” says Dan Dixon, S.J., who conducted the academy’s feasibility study during the 2017-2018 school year. “If not, is this academy one way which we might try to make that possible?”
A veteran of urban, Catholic education, Mary Ann Vogel, was hired as the implementation director and will serve as Principal of The Welsh Academy. As the founding principal of St. Martin de Porres High School, a Cristo Rey school in Cleveland, she is no stranger to the task at hand. Vogel is working alongside Dixon to begin making detailed plans and hiring faculty.
Many decisions are being made and questions are being answered as the school begins accepting applications for its first class of 6th-graders. It’s clear that the creation of an academy is rooted in the mission of the Jesuits, whose history is full of founding excellent schools for populations in need. One need look no further than the recent rise in Cristo Rey schools throughout the world to observe the evolution of the Society’s mission into the 21st century.
The Saint Ignatius High School that has been an anchor in Ohio City since 1886 remains the same, but with new opportunities to serve those on the margins. Already there is talk about a “big brother” program for high school students to mentor the middle school boys; certainly that’s just the beginning of things to come.
Fr. Welsh’s transformative presidency concluded 18 years ago, in 2001. The legendary Jesuit died August 30, 2018. Who could have predicted that it would still be shaping his Alma Mater, even after his passing? God only knows.