Orchard Lake St. Mary's Prep to add girls division for first time in its history in 2020

The campus of Orchard Lake St. Mary's Preparatory is seen in this file photo. Starting in the 2020-21 academic year, the Orchard Lake Schools will introduce a girls division to the all-boys campus. While the twin divisions will maintain separate classrooms, academics and athletic programs, there will be opportunities for co-ed social and extracurricular activities. (Photos courtesy of the Orchard Lake Schools)

New co-divisional platform will have two, separate single-gender schools on Orchard Lake campus, offer new option for area families

ORCHARD LAKE — Girls will be attending Orchard Lake St. Mary’s Preparatory for the first time in its 135-year history starting in fall 2020.

The Orchard Lake Schools, which also hosts SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary and The Polish Mission, announced Oct. 15 it will launch a girls school to complement the boys division at St. Mary’s.

The two divisions will operate as two separate schools on the Orchard Lake campus, with freshmen girls being admitted to the school for the 2020-21 academic year.

“While we recognize this opportunity represents a change, our core values remain the same,” said Bob Pyles, St. Mary Preparatory headmaster. “Importantly, the extraordinary men and women of our faculty and staff remain the foremost resource in the daily formation of St. Mary’s students. Through their work rooted in faith, maintaining the culture of opportunity, growth and accomplishment will be our highest priority as we transition to this new model.”

Pyles added the school has considered the addition of a girls division for a few years, calling the decision an opportunity to serve families who sent their sons to St. Mary’s and wished their was a similar option for their daughters.

There is plenty of room on the 115-acre, 23-building campus for a sister school at St. Mary’s, Pyles said. St. Mary’s Preparatory currently has 474 students, with 50 boarding students living on campus. Pyles added there are no plans for the school to host female boarding students.

St. Mary’s will operate as a co-divisional school with a boys and girls division, operating as two separate schools under the direction of Orchard Lake Schools, with Pyles as headmaster of St. Mary’s and Canon Miroslaw Krol as chancellor of Orchard Lake Schools.

The Prep building is seen on the campus of the Orchard Lake Schools. 
St. Mary's Prep students check out an art gallery at the Polish Mission in this 2015 file photo.

“At this moment in our history, we are reminded of the words of St. John Paul II, who visited our campus twice during his lifetime,” Canon Krol said. “In his encyclical On the Collaboration of Men and Women, he encouraged ‘cooperation and adequate support throughout our lives so that both genders can become healthy men and women.’”

With two divisions, the schools will operate separately with single-gendered classrooms, athletics programs and schedules, but there will be opportunities for male and female student to engage in social, spiritual and co-curricular activities.

“This is a unique opportunity,” Pyles said. “The boys never really had a sister school close to us.”

“We’re caught in between St. Catherine’s (in Wixom, 17 miles away), Marian (in Bloomfield Hills, 9 miles away) and Mercy (in Farmington Hills, 10 miles away), and with our location in Commerce,” Pyles said. “At Our Lady of Refuge (Parish), across the street from St. Mary’s, we’ve seen parents struggle when deciding on a school, saying there aren’t options available; this will give them another option.”

Pyles added he doesn’t expect St. Mary’s opening a girls division will hinder the enrollment of other all-girls Catholic schools in the area, citing Orchard Lake’s geographic position.

“I don’t look at this as competition with other Catholic schools in the area,” Pyles added. “This is offering a Catholic school to anyone who wants it, as Unleash the Gospel states. We see this as an opportunity for ladies who live in our area who are looking for an opportunity.”

A statue of St. John Paul II overlooks a garden and grotto on the campus of the Orchard Lake Schools. Starting in 2020-21, the campus will add a girls division to the all-boys St. Mary's Prepatarory. 

St. Mary’s officials looked at De La Salle Collegiate in Chicago, Holy Cross and Xaverian High Schools in New York City, Catholic single-gender high schools that have adopted similar models.

“In the co-ed model, it is a single school for everyone in that same umbrella,” Pyles said. “These schools will be separate in the classroom, but will share the campus, teachers, staff and some administrative resources, so there will be going back and forth. But they will be single-gender schools, with their own athletic teams and schedules.”

Pyles doesn’t expect St. Mary’s to hire additional staff for the girls school for now, predicting the first girls class of freshmen for the 2020-21 academic year will be around 30.

St. Mary's enrollment has been in a slight decline, from 527 in the 2015-16 school year to 474 students this year.

“Across Michigan, the number of school-age children is in decline,” Pyles said. “When looking to do this, we were looking for a way to serve a section of the population that doesn’t have this opportunity. This came to us as a good opportunity for young ladies in our area.”

The addition of a girls division to St. Mary's Preparatory will include separate athletic and academic programs.

Pyles said St. Mary’s parents and prospective parents have expressed mostly positive reactions. 

Orchard Lake Schools began in 1885, when SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary was built on the corner of Forest and St. Aubin on Detroit’s east side. Twenty-four years later, increased enrollment caused the school to move in 1909 to its current location in Orchard Lake, on the grounds of the former Michigan Military Academy.

In 1928, SS. Cyril and Methodius emerged from restructuring, resulting in the creation of the Orchard Lake Schools, which included SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary, St. Mary’s College and St. Mary’s Preparatory.

Male lay students were first admitted to the college in 1969, with women and commuter student following in 1970. In 2003, St. Mary’s College was transferred to Livonia-based Madonna University. 

St. Mary’s Preparatory first offered a day-school option to its traditional boarding program in 1987.

The school recently raised more than $6 million in private donations for the construction of a new 22-classroom building overlook Orchard Lake, and has already invested $2.2 million in current classrooms and learning centers over the past 12 years, Pyles said.

“Change is always hard, even mild change, but we’ve had some really positive responses to this,” Pyles said. “Once people have read the document to explain the changes, I think all their questions will be answered. There were worries that we would be losing the brotherhood of students at the school, but the brotherhood will be the same. Now, we’ll have a sisterhood of ladies here.”