Nestled on 44 acres in the hamlet of Warners is a small school called Mater Dei Academy. Founded in 2000, the co-educational school serves approximately 150 students, in kindergarten through high school.
One thing that makes this educational institution unique is its dormitory that houses 39 male boarding students, who hail from all over the country, including Montana, Texas, Idaho, Oregon, Missouri and Florida.
It is a school associated with the Society of Saint Pius X — the second largest such school in the nation serving children through grade 12. The school is affiliated with Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Warners. Originally, the school was located within the church, but moved to Warners six years ago to expand and accommodate a growing number of students ...
According to the school’s handbook, the mission of Mater Dei Academy is “to provide children of Catholic families with a thorough education, founded upon traditional principles of education and discipline.”
The Rev. Stephen Stanich, principal, described the Society of Saint Pius X as a religious order of the Catholic Church.
“Basically our order was founded in 1970 by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who was asked by seminarians to continue the traditional Latin Mass. We are trying to fight some of the reform that has taken place since the Second Vatican Council,” he said.
“At our school, we focus on developing and improving Catholic life,” Stanich said. “We teach our children higher moral standards.”
The average high school class contains about 15 students, with smaller class sizes in the primary grades. There are more males than females because of the influx of male boarders. About 20 people staff the school, mostly lay people. The staff includes a dorm father and one nun.
The strict religious focus is evident in the students’ curriculum and everyday life.
Those who live in the school dormitory have a daily routine that includes chores, prayer, classes, free time, silence and recollection. Use of electronics including DVD players, Internet, social media and cell phones is discouraged on campus.
“We definitely try to rely on them for moderate use, mostly in the children’s home with parents’ discretion,” Stanich said. “We are more strict about things, and the parents back us 100 percent, because it’s what they want. We teach them how to use (technology) more than anything — moderately, conducive to study and responsibly.”
The school is state-recognized and its curriculum meets New York state standards for education, including Regents classes. However, religion is woven throughout the lessons. Although the enrollment is lower than most traditional schools, the academy still competes in athletic Class D sporting events at the high school level, including men’s soccer, basketball and lacrosse and women’s volleyball. The school’s teams face some much larger competitors including Jordan-Elbridge, Pulaski and Notre Dame of Utica.
“Our people are just like everyday other people, at sporting events, just like anyone else ... but with a higher commitment to wean ourselves from things of this earth and prepare ourselves for the next life, the life in heaven,” Stanich said.
The majority of academy students are from Central New York and live at home. The academy attracts the boarding students from similar parishes across the country that have no school affiliated with them. The academy also offers a high-school alternative to home-schooling for some families.
“In our order, we only have five or six high schools in America and only three that take male boarders — one in Illinois, Kansas and here in Warners, NY,” Stanich said. “There are about three that take girls (as boarders), including Michigan, Kansas and Idaho.”
Stanich said the strict nature of the school does not appeal to everyone. The families that enroll their children in the program do so for a specific reason, he said.
“For those people out there who are interested in traditional Catholicism, the Latin Mass, the way our children dress and the way they are taught, this is something for you,” Stanich said. “We promote strict moral code, we stay away from rock ’n roll music and avoid any movies that promote immorality against the commandments. However, we do promote use of good music, and the practice of virtue in order that our children would be successful as citizens, as a Catholic — they grow up to be good examples in society.”
The academy has had its success stories.
Stanich said a few of its students have received academic scholarships, including one to LeMoyne College last year. Some continue on to seminaries or monasteries.
Stanich also measures success by the commitment he sees in former students to the small, non-traditional school they attended in their youth.
“I am happy to see the kids who have graduated from our school, who have a love of the faith that we taught them here,” Stanich said. “They take their faith seriously. We already have a couple of students who have graduated and come back to teach. Some are even married and send their children here.”