Students of Austin Catholic Academy drawn to daily Mass

Michelle Samartino | The Michigan Catholic

Ray Township — For Rosemary Strasz, one of the things she’s looking forward to as one of Austin Catholic Academy’s first students is to build a better relationship with God.
“I’m definitely excited about going to Mass every day and to make it a part of my daily schedule. It’s definitely the most exciting thing for me,” said Rosemary, who will be one of what is hoped to be 25 freshmen at the school this fall.

Austin Catholic Academy will open its doors in September at a facility in the New Haven School District.

Austin Catholic Academy, operated by the Augustinian order, will open its doors this September after a long journey peppered with highs and lows. Already several years in the making, the opening of the school marks a celebration of the support of the many parents and area parishes that wanted — and needed — a co-ed Catholic high school in Macomb County.

The school building is located at 26 Mile Road and North Avenue in Ray Township, about a 5-minute drive from its original location. “The land is still owned by the school — and it’s a beautiful piece of land,” said Fr. David Brecht, OSA, headmaster of Austin Catholic Academy.

A campaign to raise money for the school began in 2005, and in 2008, a groundbreaking was held. Shortly after, “the financial crisis occurred and the banks wouldn’t lend us the money to finance it,” he recalled.

With progress moving slowly, it was decided to look into a new facility rather than building from the ground up. Four possible locations came up, including a generous offer by St. Isidore Parish in Macomb Township to use their facilities, said Fr. Brecht, “but we knew it was important to have our own place.”

He became aware that the New Haven School District had a school available to lease — equally important, it was still very close to the original location. Only 10 years old, the building includes oversized classrooms, a computer lab, chapel and auditorium.

Whether the lease will eventually be renewed will be determined by the economy and school district in five years, Fr. Brecht added.
The academy will kickoff with an expected 25 ninth-grade students. A class will be added each year until the full four-year curriculum is established.

A cooperative agreement will allow students to participate in local public after-school athletic and music programs. After-school clubs and organizations will eventually be established at the academy.
Even more appealing is the low tuition rate, which is set at $6,750. “We wanted to be affordable,” Fr. Brecht said. “We even have a donor who has contributed $1,000 for each of those 25 students, which reduces it to $5,750.” The school will also feature a college prep academic curriculum based on a strong Catholic foundation.

The liberal arts curriculum follows the philosophy of St. Augustine, dating back to the fifth century.  In addition, what was just as important to Fr. Brecht was incorporating daily Mass into the school schedule.

Erin Pelky, along with her parents, Nancy and Randy, members of St. Therese of Lisieux Parish, Shelby Twp., say the individualized attention offered at Austin Catholic Academy was an appealing aspect in sending their daughter to the school, opening this fall.

“The important thing with this school was that we wanted to be a Catholic school of formation and not just instruction,” he stressed. “The Mass is central to our Catholic faith and so we want to help the students develop that with the Lord and in the sacraments.”For the Strasz family, having daily Mass was a huge factor in sending their children to Austin Catholic Academy.“It’s a good fit,” Denise Strasz said, mother to John Paul, Rosemary and Joseph, who will all eventually become students at Austin Catholic Academy. The commuting time and miles will also be drastically reduced from half an hour to about 10 minutes, another big draw.
“Obviously we are underserved in this area and this is a growing area,” Denise said, “so we’re more than thrilled that the Academy is opening up.”
Her husband, Steve Strasz, said he was thrilled to see the news that the school was going to open this fall and immediately sought more information. “We really wanted them to learn and grow in the faith and in their relationship with God besides the academic side of things,” he said. “We think both aspects are important so they can discover who and what God really meant for them to be both spiritually and on the temporal side.

“They have been very welcoming to us and are very dedicated,” Steve added. “They expect us to take an active role and that aspect of family community was an important part of the approach they take there.”What’s more, even the drive to the school is a pleasant, said Denise, and whose family are members of SS. Cyril & Methodius Slovak Parish in Sterling Heights.

John Paul Strasz, who will be alongside his sister this fall at Austin Catholic Academy, said one of the best parts will be the opportunity to be a part of a new beginning. “I can start again and make new friends. I’m not really that scared,” he said.

The whole experience of a new beginning and a new school has been positive for the entire Strasz family, said Denise.“I’m happy and hopeful that this will be a cultivation of our children’s soul and relationship with Christ,” said Denise.