A table with information about Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati stands at the entry of a new Northeast Portland school named for him. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
A table with information about Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati stands at the entry of a new Northeast Portland school named for him. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
On the day after Labor Day, a small private high school opened across the street from Holy Rosary Parish in Northeast Portland.

The Chesterton Academy of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati is the educational and spiritual home to more than a dozen families from the Portland area and southwest Washington.

“It’s for those who want their kids to come out as thinkers,” said Dominican Father Corwin Low, pastor of Holy Rosary. “The questions will be, ‘Can you think? Can you solve problems? And are you aware of the world around you?’”

There are about three dozen Chesterton academies nationwide. The network, which began in Minnesota in 2008, is named for the Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton (d. 1936), an essayist and novelist who articulated Catholic ideas in an orthodox and witty way.

Chesterton Academy of the Willamette Valley is located on the campus of the Benedictine Sisters in Mount Angel. It opened in 2018 and has a special focus of helping students appreciate the land. Ten seniors graduated earlier this year.

Portland’s new Chesterton academy, autonomous from both Holy Rosary and the Archdiocese of Portland, is named for a young Italian man who loved the outdoors and the church. Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati died in 1925 at age 24 having been a faithful worshipper, a man who served the poor, an advocate of religious liberty, a lively friend and an outdoorsman.

“Parishioners are delighted that a school is coming back,” Father Low said.

The curriculum comes from the great works of Western culture, and teachers lean toward seminar discussions instead of lectures.

“They want the kids to get involved,” Father Low said.

The academy is leasing the building from Holy Rosary.

Aquinas Hall was home to a Catholic-inspired classical school two decades ago, but it didn’t last. Father Low is confident Frassati will stand the test of time. The curriculum is well defined, a factor he said should prevent the kind of disagreement that scuttled the last project.

History, literature, philosophy, theology and languages are integrated using the Socratic method. Frassati freshmen focus on the ancient world while sophomores take up the early medieval period and juniors the high middle ages to the Renaissance. Seniors explore the modern world.

Students will read Homer, Chaucer, Dante, Shakespeare, Dickens, Dostoevsky, Chesterton and American literature.

The four-year history sequence covers Greek and Roman civilizations, early church history, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance the Reformation and the Counter-reformation. In senior year, students study the modern era, including the American and French Revolutions, the Industrial Revolution, the communist revolution and the sexual revolution.

They will study the development of philosophy from its classical roots focusing on Plato and Aristotle, its encounter with the early church, its christening by St. Thomas Aquinas, and its changes in the modern era. The principal theological texts studied are the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church plus the Church Fathers, documents of the church councils and papal encyclicals.

Frassati students are required to take two years of Latin and then go on to choose Latin III, Spanish or Italian.

Math covers Euclidean geometry and algebra, all the way through advanced calculus. Science studies move from astronomy and earth sciences to biology, chemistry and physics.

Every student learns to draw and paint, sing in the choir, act on stage, give speeches and engage in debate.

Father Low has been involved with Catholic homeschooling for decades. He understands the desire in some traditional Catholic parents for alternative education that is meant to avert modern pitfalls. Homeschooling can work well for younger students, but once kids enter high school, the academics get too advanced for the typical parent, Father Low said.

Chesterton academies require Mass — it will be the noon Mass weekdays at Holy Rosary — with male students as altar servers. Frassati will offer traditional sacred music as part of the curriculum. There are annual retreats and pilgrimages.

Each faculty and staff member takes an oath of fidelity to the Magisterium at the beginning of the academic year.