In an article published Feb. 5, 1993, in The Michigan Catholic, then-Archbishop Adam Maida announced that he had invited the Society of Mary (Marist Fathers and Brothers) to oversee the operation of Oakland Catholic High School in Pontiac, beginning in the fall of 1994.
The Society of Mary agreed to establish Notre Dame Preparatory School at the request of Maida, who made the offer to Fr. Joseph Hindelang, s.m., Provincial Superior of the Marists, based primarily on the excellent reputation enjoyed by the Marists at Harper Woods Notre Dame, which closed in 2005.
The site on Giddings Road in northern Oakland County was built originally as Pontiac Catholic Central High School in 1968, when two Pontiac area schools, St. Michael and St. Frederick, merged. In 1988, the school was rebranded as Oakland Catholic High School.
“The Marists bring their great dedication and proven history at Notre Dame High School in Harper Woods, and I know the people in Oakland County are very excited about this,” Maida said at the time. “I look forward to working with the Marists to make it the premier high school in the archdiocese.”
On Aug. 28, 1994, Notre Dame Preparatory School began its first year with a meeting of teachers, administrators and staff around four small tables in the library of the former Oakland Catholic building. The meeting included only 18 staff members and consisted of veteran teachers from three of Notre Dame’s heritage schools: Harper Woods Notre Dame, Pontiac Catholic High School and Oakland Catholic High School.
Drawing on a mission conceived by Society of Mary founder Fr. Jean-Claude Colin in 1829 and the experience of graduating from and later teaching at Notre Dame High School, Marist Fathers Leon Olszamowski, Jim Strasz and Joe Hindelang formulated a vision: Notre Dame Preparatory School would be “the school of choice in Oakland County.”
The following day, on Aug. 29, the faculty and staff welcomed 183 students to a new school in the refurbished Oakland Catholic building. It was on that day that students heard for the first time the defining phrase in the mission of the new school: “With God, we form Christian people, upright citizens and academic scholars.”
A growth milestone and middle school takes root
Twenty-two seniors crossed the stage as Notre Dame’s first graduating class in the spring of 1995. The original plan for the new school included a middle school, which began with soon-to-be principal Sandra Favrow and not much more than a desk, a pad of paper and a pen.
In August of 1996, Notre Dame opened its doors to 162 students in grades six, seven and eight, including the younger siblings of 39 Notre Dame Prep students who were enrolled in the high school at the time.
In four short years after opening its doors, Notre Dame was proclaimed to be the “miracle school” by Cardinal Maida, head of the Archdiocese of Detroit. The Class of 1998 was the first to spend a full four years at Notre Dame Prep. The remarkable success of the young school came through clearly in the accomplishments of the class.
The graduation of those 88 students brought the school’s first acceptances to the University of Notre Dame, Northwestern University and Boston College. The class also was Notre Dame Prep's first to eclipse $1 million in college scholarships. In addition, the class helped usher in the now-thriving theater and band programs, launched a first-class service project by spending nearly 400 hours restoring a home in the city of Pontiac and won the school’s first regional championships in athletics. The Class of 1998 also included Notre Dame Prep's first National Merit Scholarship finalist and an All-State First Team selection in athletics.
New lower school
The school’s remarkable story took another unexpected turn in 2003. In an era when closing and consolidating Catholic schools was commonplace, Notre Dame ventured out and opened an elementary school.
Notre Dame’s lower school took root in a location with a history of Catholic education. Notre Dame Marist Academy – Lower Division opened on the campus of St. Benedict School and Parish in Waterford. St. Benedict School once was a strong feeder school to Pontiac Catholic, Oakland Catholic and Notre Dame Prep, but in the early 2000s was struggling to survive.
In April 2003, the Marists agreed to open the school. Throughout the following summer, volunteers and workers from Notre Dame turned out to help prepare the building, and on Sept. 2, 2003, the Marists and the staff welcomed 110 new students into the Notre Dame family.
Before long, Notre Dame Marist Academy – Lower Division students began to outperform their peers on the IOWA Test of Basic Skills, but more importantly, embraced the mission of being “good Christian people and upright citizens” in a rigorous learning environment that challenged students in academics, leadership, art, athletics, service and prayer.
In 2013, Notre Dame’s lower school moved from its Waterford location to a new facility on the same campus that houses the preparatory and middle schools in Pontiac.
Accolades pile up
The early success of Notre Dame provided the foundation for the tremendous growth. The students at Notre Dame continued to thrive because the Marist Fathers and Brothers, the school’s faculty, and families in the community have continued to look for opportunities to grow.
In the time since the founding of the school, Notre Dame has developed one of the most respected arts programs in the area, was recognized as a Top 50 Catholic School by the Catholic School Honor Roll four times, received the prestigious Exemplary Athletic Program Award by the Michigan High School Athletic Association, and became the first Catholic school in the nation to offer all three levels of the International Baccalaureate programme.
Today, nearly 1,000 students attend classes at Notre Dame’s Pontiac campus.
An Independent Catholic School
In July of 2014, Notre Dame completed the acquisition of property, buildings and other assets from the Archdiocese of Detroit. As a result of the transaction, ownership of the property, buildings and assets of the school has been transferred from the archdiocese to a Michigan non-profit, tax-exempt educational corporation called Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, which is governed by the school’s Board of Trustees.
The Catholic sponsorship and educational-program management by the Marist Fathers continue at the school as before. All academic, athletic, art and other programs as well as the school’s administration, faculty and staff also continue without change.
We're No. 1!
In 2016, Notre Dame Prep was named the top Catholic school in the state of Michigan, according to Niche.com, a national organization that annually ranks colleges and K-12 schools across the country. Niche also rated Notre Dame the 7th best private high school, religious or non-religious, in the state. Cranbrook and Country Day were ranked No. 1 and 2, respectively, on the list of all private schools.
According to Niche, the Best Catholic High Schools ranking provides a comprehensive assessment of the overall experience at a Catholic high school. This grade considers key factors such as the strength of academics, school culture and diversity, as well as student and parent reviews, in an attempt to measure the overall excellence of the school. In August 2019, Niche.com again ranked Notre Dame Prep as the top Catholic high school in the state, which means that four out of the last five years, the school earned the top spot.
STEM gets boost with new wing
In August of 2018, school officials, students, parents and faculty and staff celebrated the opening of the school's new new science, art and technology wing that was made possible by the most successful capital campaign in the school's history. The new facility, now called the “Timothy J. Easterwood Science, Art and Technology Wing,” has been added to the existing shared middle school and preparatory school wings and includes science laboratories, collaborative-learning classrooms, a robotics lab, a state-of-the-art greenhouse, and two fine arts studios.
Strong future at hand
The Marist Fathers and Brothers continue to infuse the school in Pontiac with a spirit and philosophy of education rooted in a long history of teaching not only in metro Detroit but around the world. This commitment to excellence has also benefited from a vibrant alumni association that includes more than 10,000 graduates from the Notre Dame family of schools who continue to share their gifts on this campus as teachers, coaches, parents, volunteers and donors. In fact, Notre Dame’s roster of faculty, staff and coaches currently includes 17 alumni.
Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy has come far in a short 25 years. With a solid foundation rooted in faith and academics, the long-term success of Michigan’s best Catholic school is assured. And the next 25 years promise to be just as exciting.