In early August 2019, it was hard to say exactly what daily life was going to be like at The Welsh Academy. A brand new piece of the Saint Ignatius High School community, the middle school was welcoming its first class of sixth graders and a crop of new teachers and staff.
What occurred throughout the year would surely have made the late former president and academy namesake, Fr. Robert Welsh, S.J. ’54, quite proud.
The inaugural class consisted of 21 students—boys from families of modest economic means who otherwise would not have access to a robust private education, guided by the school’s Jesuit Catholic mission. They and their teachers were a welcome presence in the hallways, athletic fields and classrooms of Saint Ignatius. A joyful spirit permeated all their many activities.
In addition to daily classes in traditional subjects like Language Arts, Math, Science, History, and Religion, the boys also learned foreign languages like Latin, took music classes, and were introduced to a variety of new technologies. Affinity courses were a hit. These afternoon sessions allowed students to choose their own adventure and try out activities like golf, baking, aquaponics, mechanical engineering and others.
A big brother program enabled the young scholars to learn the Ignatius ropes from seniors. These pairs sat together at the Mass of the Holy Spirit, had free time after school for bonding, and shared some meals together at special events throughout the year.
Furthermore, teachers, staff and Jesuits led the boys in spiritual conversation and religious formation. They had special prayer services for the Día de los Muertos around Halloween and for Ash Wednesday at the start of Lent. Several were also leaders in the annual Black History Month prayer service in February. These gatherings were in addition to Masses throughout the year that welcomed the new families, thanked benefactors and praised God for the work of all who were involved during the first year.
Even during the coronavirus, learning continued. Each student received a Chromebook computer and assistance with Internet access if it was needed. Teachers provided live daily lessons and abundant structure to help the boys’ learning proceed. A car parade in the Breen Center parking lot in late May gave everyone a chance to say hello in-person before the start of summer vacation.
As the students and staff prepare for year two, excitement remains high. The number of enrolled students will jump from 21 to 46 as the newest sixth-grade class arrives in the fall. Furthermore, the newly renovated school building is expected to open in October; the former Foursquare Church on the southwest corner of West 32nd Street and Carroll Avenue will be a state-of-the-art learning facility and permanent home for the academy.
“We’re preparing the boys for an academically rigorous high school experience here at Saint Ignatius or someplace else,” says Welsh Academy Principal Mary Ann Vogel. “We want them to be prepared and empowered.”
Fr. Welsh once said that the purpose of an Ignatian education is to give students the tools to know what God wants from them. After just one year, it’s clear The Welsh Academy is forming students to fulfill this mission and this dream.