‘Jesus at the center’ of Divine Child’s spiritual and academic foundation

Fr. James Bilot blesses the athletic complex at Divine Child High School in Dearborn in this 2016 file photo. Divine Child, the largest coed Catholic high school in Michigan, was named the Catholic High School League’s School of the Year for 2017-18. Dan Meloy | The Michigan Catholic

Who is the Divine Child?

“Of course, it’s Jesus,” says Fr. James Bilot, pastor of Divine Child Parish in Dearborn.

That question served this past week as the theme of the annual retreat for more than a hundred coaches of the elementary and high school sports teams.

“Jesus’ name is on all of our apparel, on our facility, so what we do, what we are, reflects our savior. The name lets everyone know that Christ is the center of all we do, and we should always be mindful of that.”

That reflection is a major component within a vibrant academic structure that makes up the “heart” of Divine Child High School, says principal Eric Haley.

“It’s a desire to be great in whatever we do. We strive to offer an excellent product to prepare students for whatever’s ahead in their lives.”

Divine Child High School is the Catholic League’s School of the Year, so honored recently at the CHSL’s Hall of Fame banquet.

“The quality of the education and the quality of the young people at the school are just two of the reasons Divine Child is being honored,” league director Vic Michaels said. “In addition, they are one of the most cooperative and helpful schools in the Catholic League.”

Divine Child’s projected enrollment of 880 students for the coming year ranks it as the largest Catholic coed high school in the state, and the second largest among all private coed schools.

Some 55 different ZIP codes and 50 different Catholic parishes in Metro Detroit are represented in the student body.

“Our stability, our continuity,” says Haley, “starts with our pastors who have been willing to be forward-thinkers.” Remarkably, since its founding in 1950, there have been only three pastors: the founding pastor Msgr. Herbert Weier, succeeded in 1976 by Msgr. Herman Kucyk, and in 2007 by Fr. Bilot.

Acknowledging his predecessors, Fr. Bilot says, “Through the years we have kept to a foundation built on the tradition of the church.” He adds: “The school offers a great academic and spiritual foundation.”

Spiritually, in addition to daily religion classes, students visit the Eucharistic adoration chapel weekly, attend liturgies twice a month, and a retreat once a year.

Each year, students participate in “Pledge: Faith in Action,” seeking support for a particular charity. Last year, $50,000 was raised for the Capuchins. In addition, all students complete 10 service hours each year.

Academically, courses are offered in a range of subjects and skill levels. Some 18 Advanced Placement courses for college credit are offered starting in students’ sophomore year.

The school day begins at 7:40 a.m. However, Haley says, between 20 and 50 students get up earlier to attend “zero hour” courses beginning at 6:50 a.m. in Greek, English and theology for extra credit.

Socially, some 35 extracurricular activities are available, such as clubs, organizations, art and music programs, and recreational athletics. Nearly 150 members make up marching band to entertain at-home varsity football games, pep rallies, parades and special events.

About athletics, the Divine Child Falcons have enjoyed superb success with more than 100 Catholic League championships (of note: 16 years in a row competitive cheerleading, 15 times football and 10 times baseball) and 19 state championships (of note: 5 times baseball and 5 times girls basketball).

A year ago, a new stadium was dedicated that includes an all-weather turf field, eight-lane all-weather track, and seating for 2,000 fans.

This fall, the athletic complex will be completed with the expected opening of a fieldhouse to accommodate football locker rooms, space for cheerleading and wrestling, community meeting rooms and storage rooms for athletic equipment. Basketball will continue to use the current gymnasium.

The fieldhouse, Fr. Bilot says, is part of an ongoing program of constantly improving and updating facilities throughout the school and campus.

Alumni involvement is critical for any school. “We have a ton of alumni on the faculty,” Fr. Bilot says. Nearly three-quarters of the 70-plus teachers have a master’s degree or higher.

Principal Haley is a 1998 graduate, who after studying at Eastern Michigan and Madonna, returned to his alma mater as assistant principal for five years before his appointment as principal three years ago.

He married his wife, Nicole Lena, a 2000 alum. They are parents of future alumni Oliver, 3, and Will, 9 months.

Marilyn O’Brien, parish secretary and bulletin editor, is mother of three alumni: Kelly (2012), James (2013) and Michael (2015), who was an All-Catholic selection in football.

Marilyn says she and her husband, John, have made “lifelong friends” through many volunteer activities. “We’re still connected. I love the high school.”

And, so it seems, do a lot of other people.

Contact Don Horkey at [email protected]