Education leaders imagining how Catholic schools will safely reopen this fall agree on two things:…
Ohio couple plans to open Catholic Montessori school next fall
Catherine Rudolph felt the call in prayer to establish an independent Catholic school. Her husband, Jared, was on board. But neither had a background in education or knew the first thing about how to start a new school from scratch.
So they went to Google.
“‘How to start an independent Catholic Montessori school.’ That was the actual search we did,” Catherine said with a laugh as she told the origin story of Mission Academy, a pre-K to 12 school that the couple hopes will open its doors next fall near Johnstown, Ohio — a northwest suburb of Columbus.
The driving vision for Mission Academy has its origin rooted in a miraculous healing from Lyme disease that Catherine said she experienced shortly after their third child was born four years ago.
Along the way, Jared and Catherine said the Lord has moved hearts, removed obstacles and helped them to meet the right people at the right time to make Mission Academy a tangible reality.
“I really feel like we’ve been kind of trying to keep up with God, in the sense of, ‘Wow, things are moving really quickly,'” Catherine told Our Sunday Visitor in a recent interview.
A passion for mission
In 2016, Catherine, 38, who had had Lyme Disease for more than 10 years, underwent surgery for a hysterectomy. While praying with a friend, Catherine said she had a vision of Christ removing her uterus.
“And I just knew in that moment that I would be healed, that he was going to heal me,” Catherine said. “And sure enough, I woke up. Jared asked me how I felt. I said, ‘I feel the best I’ve felt in 10 years.'”
With much gratitude, Catherine said she spent the next year asking God how she could best serve him. In February 2018, while praying in the middle of the afternoon while her kids were napping, Catherine said the Lord answered.
“He said, ‘Start an independent Catholic Montessori’s school,'” Catherine said. “He showed me this farm, this beautiful land, and then he really gave me this passion for the mission at the same time that the calling came.
“It was just like he spoke to my heart, and there was this knowledge and this certainty that this is what we were supposed to be doing next,” said Catherine, who told Jared about her experience in prayer.
“His response was, OK, let’s do it,'” Catherine said.
Prior to that moment, the idea of starting a school had never entered their minds. Catherine has stayed at home watching the couple’s three young children — ages 4, 8 and 11 — while Jared is the third-generation owner of his family’s industrial distribution company.
“Neither of us are teachers,” Catherine said. “We had sent our children to Montessori preschool, so we were familiar with Montessori, but it was never anywhere in our thoughts that we would be starting a school.”
‘Focusing on the truth, beauty and goodness of Our Lord’
One of the first steps was finding a location.
“In the area of central Ohio where we are, there are three, maybe four, Catholic parishes that don’t have Catholic schools, so we actually drew a circle on a map between all those parishes and said, ‘Okay we need to find a place in there,'” Jared said.
The couple drove around that area, looking at farms that were for sale and working with a realtor until they found roughly 120 acres of rolling, wide open land just outside Johnstown, with easy access to the highways and the adjoining communities.
“It was absolutely perfect,” Jared said.
“It’s a beautiful farm. You step out onto the land, and it’s just so quiet, so peaceful, and yet it’s still easily accessible to the highway,” Catherine said. “It’s really all the things we were really feeling would be important in the location of a school.”
A working farm will be part of the curriculum. The school community will grow food to help the poor. As envisioned, the campus will include not only school buildings, but gardens and a chapel, which will be located on the property’s highest point.
Catherine said the school’s guiding philosophy and mission will be to offer “an authentic Catholic education in a Montessori curriculum, focusing on the truth, beauty and goodness of Our Lord, and then incorporating the farm and the world he created, and bringing together the children and the families to grow deeper in their faith, and all of our understanding about who we are and who God created us to be, not what the world tells us, but what he tells us and who we are to God.”
Bishop Robert Brennan of Columbus, Ohio, has given his official approval for the project, enabling Jared and Catherine to focus on fundraising. In the meantime, they have started a homeschooling co-op this fall with a few other families. A former Montessori teacher recently donated 10 years’ worth of instructional materials.
“What we’ve learned and what we’re learning everyday is that there’s so much the Lord can do when you say yes to him and to his will,” Catherine said. “It’s so beautiful to witness, especially when everything is unfolding in front of your eyes, and you’re watching other people say yes because the Lord is moving their heart[s], too.”
Brian Fraga is a contributing editor for Our Sunday Visitor.