Eleven seniors graduated this year from Holy Rosary Academy in Anchorage, an independent Catholic school. Vice Principal Tommy Welsh, who taught the graduates students throughout junior high and high school, was impressed by the group.
“They are a very good-natured class, and are always willing to help out around the school or share their considerable talents with the other students and the community,” he said. “They are also thoughtful and have a great sense of humor. Teaching them the past several years has been a great pleasure.”
The Catholic Anchor caught up with each of the students to talk about their experience at Holy Rosary and their plans for the future.
Kaitlyn Gilmore was a homeschooler and part-time student at Holy Rosary. Her Catholic education began when she attended St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Elementary in Anchorage. She then began homeschooling and attended Holy Rosary part-time for the past five years. She is grateful for a school that supports her faith.
“It is my great love of my faith that will always sustain me through all of life’s challenges,” she said.
Her favorite class, Leadership Service, is part of her homeschooling program. Through this course, she completed more than 300 hours of community service for which she has received letters of recognition from Senator Lisa Murkowski and Governor Mike Dunleavy. At Holy Rosary she participated in music, art, yearbook, volleyball and soccer.
Of her many soccer memories, her favorite is when the team won second place in the state championships.
“Playing soccer with my team in a foot of snow and 40 mile-per-hour winds has been one of the most amazing memories I had!” she said.
She plans to attend university on scholarship and become a music therapist.
Cookson was homeschooled before enrolling at Holy Rosary seven years ago. He credits the school for deepening his knowledge of the Catholic faith. His most rewarding class was government “because I like the practicalities that are taught,” he said. “A lot of our classes incorporate the faith, which is very important, but government also incorporated just a secular importance of understanding the economy and general money management.” Cookson participated in athletics, taking a leadership role on the teams. He played soccer for seven years, and coached the indoor soccer team for three. For those considering attending Catholic school, he said, “It’s very rewarding if you are serious on deepening your connection to the faith.”
Cookson said he is grateful for the teachers at Holy Rosary because they are not merely there to teach, but to journey with the students spiritually and academically. Cookson will attend university, and plans to become a police officer.
Thomas Biegel has attended Holy Rosary since seventh grade, having been homeschooled previously. He believes Catholic education gave him a deeper appreciation of his faith.
“I’ve really been able to think critically on all of the concepts that I took for granted before,” he said.
His most rewarding classes were an ancient seminar and human anatomy. The former “was a great intro to thinking critically and the Socratic method, and learning how to form arguments,” he said. “Anatomy was kind of a super-science class; it was almost a college level course, so it was really amazing to see how much you can know.”
He was a member of the soccer, track, and wrestling teams. For those considering Catholic school, he said it is “very immersive and they dive into the topics super well. It’s also pretty good with trying to help you know as much as you can.”
After graduation, he plans to study computer programming with the goal of working in the field of software and application developing.
Joseph Bjelland has attended Holy Rosary since kindergarten. He noticed that Holy Rosary has contributed greatly to his knowledge of the faith.
“I know a lot more about my faith than most of the people that go to public school,” he said.
He appreciates that the school provides him with an environment of like-minded people to whom he can bear witness to his Catholic faith on a daily basis. In addition to the rigorous faith formation students receive, Bjelland notes that the academic rigor would be beneficial to anyone. “Even if they aren’t Catholic, they should go for the higher [standard of] education,” he said.
The academic course that has impacted him most is anatomy and physiology, particularly because of its practical use in his future. He plans to use what he learned in that class as a firefighter, and as a combat medic in the Army Reserves.
Jacinta Grendel was homeschooled until attending Holy Rosary five years ago. She said the school helped her understand her faith more broadly “to see the greater picture of how the church is other than just going to Sunday Mass and praying at home, just how it’s involved in the world and history.”
She found the seminar classes most rewarding, where she read primary sources that opened her eyes to various schools of thought throughout the history of humanity. She especially appreciated her American seminar. “It starts at the roots of America, to what it is today,” she said. “I feel like I know America a little better from that class.”
Grendel participated in the school drama club, and was a Mass cantor. She wants those considering Catholic school to know that “the community is great and people care. It’s not a stuck-up place where you’re going to be marginalized.” Grendel plans to study fashion design and merchandising, hoping to start an ethical and sustainable clothing line.
Felicity Hart attended Holy Rosary eight years, but also received homeschooling and public education. She said Catholic school “helped me learn more who God is, and my relationship with him.”
Raised in a strong Catholic family, Hart is grateful that her education supported her faith. She also appreciated Holy Rosary’s unique courses. The most rewarding was “Euclidian geometry, because it connects math with the real world instead of simply being numbers.”
She played soccer and volleyball over the years. She encourages others to consider Catholic school because “they would get a sound and challenging education, as well as a good Catholic perspective.”
She cites the community life as one of the greatest benefits of a school like Holy Rosary.
“It’s relatively small, which means that everyone knows everybody else, so there’s more of a chance to bond,” she noted.
Hart will be attending college to major in robotic engineering.
John Lastimoso attended Holy Rosary for eight years and experienced Catholic education as a guiding light for his faith.
“Attending a Catholic school has deepened my faith by allowing me to understand the faith and not just follow it blindly,” he said.
Theology was his favorite subject because of the seminar-style format that allowed him to “learn about my faith rather than just being told what the answers are.”
He credits the school’s tight-knit community for allowing him to form great friendships. He was very active in extracurriculars on campus, acting in the drama productions, and playing soccer, track, basketball, and volleyball.
To anyone contemplating Catholic school, he encourages them to “at least give it a try so that they could learn about the faith and the principles we hold.”
He plans to become a pilot, take flight lessons and study computer sciences.
Savio Le began attending Holy Rosary in fifth grade.
“I definitely grew a lot more in my faith than if I went to public school,” he said. “Before Holy Rosary, I didn’t even know what a rosary was!”
He said learning the facts of the faith, as well as attending school Mass and holy hours have deepened his faith. Exposure to the faith, he said, is the most beneficial aspect of attending Catholic school.
Like many Holy Rosary graduates, the seminar classes impacted him, because, “they teach you how to discuss in a group setting, and they let you exercise your reasoning and think about your opinion thoroughly and properly.”
Le was active in soccer, track, and volleyball, as well as participating in science competitions, and thinks that attending Catholic school would be worth anyone’s while, “because it’s really going to change the way you think about life.”
He plans to study biotechnology before enrolling in a medical program.
Alexander O’Neill attended Holy Rosary six years, after previously being homeschooled. He said the school taught him to “really experience and live” his Catholic faith in a community of like-minded people, learning about the faith from each other, versus just attending Mass on Sundays.
He enjoyed Euclidian geometry and calculus, finding them to be very helpful, after hating math prior to attending Holy Rosary.
Active in extracurricular activities, he acted in all the school’s drama productions, and was on the soccer team for six years, including as team captain this year. He also started the student government, serving as president this year.
O’Neill encourages anyone considering Catholic school, saying one “can get your questions answered and experience your faith in a new dimension. The Socratic method will help you understand it and help others understand it.”
He plans to attend university on a ROTC scholarship, and hopes to become an Air Force pilot.
Carly Syren is the class’ newest member, having transferred from public school two years ago. While raised Catholic, she wasn’t really practicing the faith. Attending Holy Rosary, however, has “definitely strengthened my faith, and helped ignite it again,” she said. “It’s been a really positive experience.”
She considers her renewed Catholic faith to be the greatest benefit she’s received from her short time at Holy Rosary. As a result of this growth in faith, she chose to receive the sacrament of confirmation last month.
Her seminar classes had a major impact, particularly when compared to the public education she previously experienced
“It’s a whole new atmosphere, and you can learn to think correctly and be challenged with conversations,” she said.
Syren was a member of the track and field team. She recommends Catholic school to others, particularly if they’re looking for something challenging. This fall she plans to attend college and hopes to go into business.
ISABELLA VAN TETS
Isabella van Tets attended Holy Rosary as a freshman, and credits the school for leading her to the Catholic faith as a sophomore. Growing up Anglican, she fell in love with the Catholic Mass at Holy Rosary’s weekly liturgies.
“Going to Anglican services when I was little, it was just a service; it wasn’t like God was actually there,” she said. “Attending Masses at school, it actually feels like God is actually there, because he is, and that was incredibly uplifting.” Government was her favorite class, and she was student body head of the school’s student government.
For those desiring an intellectual challenge, Holy Rosary fits the bill, she said. Having been to public school previously, she felt she was “never properly challenged,” and has loved that aspect of the school, especially the seminar-style discussions.
“They want the students to actually learn their way toward the truth, rather than just being told the truth, which doesn’t stick as well,” she said.
She plans to study culinary arts.