Detroit Catholic school sends all seniors to college

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Detroit — Along a vacant boulevard on Detroit’s northwest side, the campus of an abandoned Catholic church and school has been repurposed into an all-male high school with the aim of men helping other men to succeed.

At Loyola High School, one of three Catholic high schools left in the city, officials have been working for 23 years to nurture a culture where African-American young men can rely on one another, learn to give back to others and achieve academically.

Their commitment is paying off: On Tuesday, the school conducted its first college signing day, when every one of the 28 seniors in the school of 140 announced where they would go to college. It marked the seventh consecutive that Loyola would send 100 percent of its senior class to college, with more than $1 million in scholarships for this year’s seniors, and 13 first-generation college students.

“What’s embedded in our school is we are obligated to help one another, men and women, for others,” said Dean Wyatt Jones III, who followed in the footsteps of his father, who served as the school’s first dean. “You will hear that and feel that in everyone who walks these halls. We have a village mentality in terms of helping our students. So everyone plays a pivotal part in your success.”

The college signing day was set up to mimic an ESPN signing day, but instead of students revealing where they would play sports, they announced where they would study — from Michigan State University to Tennessee State University and places in between.

Among the most anticipated announcements was from Joseph Webb, who went to the front of the gymnasium and sat next to Jones and a panel of coaches, who all guessed where he had decided to go. Eastern Michigan University, predicted Jones, while the three other panelists said Webb would pick MSU.

Both were wrong.

“I’ll be going to Kalamazoo College,” Webb announced. The crowd erupted in applause as he held up a Kalamazoo College T-shirt and posed for pictures with his family.

Yolanda Bunting was among dozens of family members who attended the ceremony for her grandson, Blaine Woodland. She said she’s excited he will be the first to go to college out of state, at Snow College in Utah.

“Living in Detroit is not easy for a young man,” said Bunting, who’s also attending college at the age of 55. “He’s made it.”

Richard Jackson came to Loyola and worked hard to get into college after his mother reminded him not to end up like his uncles: two of them didn’t finish college, two are in jail and one died in a drive-by shooting.

“I didn’t want to be one of the statistics,” Jackson said. “I want to be one of the ones who are successful in life.”

He decided to continue his studies at MSU but said he will miss the intimacy of his small high school and the relationships he has formed with his classmates.

“Everybody is pushing everybody,” Jackson said. “Sometimes by example, other times we’re like, ‘Come on, bro, you can do it.’ ”

Loyola High School is a partnership between the Archdiocese of Detroit and the Jesuits, a community of religious brothers known as the Society of Jesus.

For 450 years, the mission of the Jesuits has been to help others and Loyola instills that into their young men, said William McGrail, Loyola director of advancement.

Part of that is through experiences beyond academics, including community service. Every senior is required to perform a weekly day of community service outside during their entire senior year.

The school also hosts several all-service days for underclassmen, such as a recent Week of Respect, where the school organized a carnival and hosted more than 100 cognitively challenged students from Detroit Public Schools.

“It’s really something that distinguishes us from the traditional educational model,” McGrail said. “It isn’t just about getting through school and getting good grades, it’s about developing a person and really developing their potential.”

KKozlowski@detroitnews.com