Cloquet gains a high school

Duluth school will move into Queen of Peace


June 23, 2023

Jana Peterson

Queen of Peace Catholic School will add a high school program to the church's lower level this fall. "The idea that now in this area we can offer our people access to pre-K through 12th grade Catholic education is something I'm excited about," Father Nick Nelson said.

Families who desire their children graduate with a Catholic education now will have that option in Cloquet, following the arrival of a high school program beginning this fall.

Mater Dei Apostolate is moving from Duluth into the Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Cloquet at 102 Fourth St.

"The idea that now in this area we can offer our people access to pre-K through 12th grade Catholic education is something I'm excited about," Father Nick Nelson said. "You want to be able to provide what you think is best for your people, and I'm grateful for being able to do that."

The church's Queen of Peace Catholic School currently offers education through eighth grade with an anticipated enrollment of 115 students this fall.

Mater Dei will rent space in the lower level of the church. Negotiations to bring the high school to Cloquet have been ongoing for several months, starting in 2022. Mater Dei made the Cloquet announcement to members last week.

The expectation is that Queen of Peace will give the high school program access to a wellspring of students, and is supported by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Duluth, said Marie Mullen, a founder of Mater Dei and its former executive director. She and Nelson are part of Mater Dei's governing board.

"It made sense for us to maintain our unique hybrid model to be an option south of Duluth," Mullen said. "The flexibility and adaptability of our program will be a good option to serve more rural communities in the south."

Until the arrival of Mater Dei in 2019 and, subsequently Stella Maris Academy's high school in 2022, Duluth had been without a Catholic high school for decades, Mullen said.

Last year, Mater Dei had 29 students and graduated its first class, after starting with 11 ninth-graders in 2019.

Mullen expected enrollment might take a hit at first.

"Initially, we might see a little dip because we'll likely be losing some of our Duluth base from this move," she said. "But for longevity, I anticipate an increase because their K-through-eight program is growing and very vibrant."

Students enrolled at Mater Dei technically register as home-schooled and adopt schedules on a per-class basis. Instructors are adjunct and authorities in their field. For instance, the current biology instructor for the program is a retired surgeon. Retired educators and stay-at-home parents who have backgrounds in teaching have also been instructors. The school's recent roster featured three-fourths of its students coming from non-homeschooling backgrounds, Mullen said.

A new option

Cloquet resident Becca Kroll is a mother whose children attend Queen of Peace. Her oldest will begin Mater Dei's ninth-grade program in the fall. Kroll has also taught introduction to chemistry and physical science at Mater Dei for the past four years.

"It's the perfect balance between having a structured school environment we can send our kids to and home-schooling and wanting to keep our kids close, but not having the ability or resources to home-school our kids full-time," she said. "We really believe parents are the primary educators, and should be allowed to do what's best for their child; we try to support parent involvement in their kids' education."

Courses cost $200 each. Students are presented with an array of options, including composition, grammar and literature, math from algebra to precalculus, physical science and chemistry, church and American history along with government and economics, choir, Latin, and a four-year cycle of theology courses.

"If they take everything we offer they will be on a college preparatory track," Mullen said.

The home-school connection allows the program to avoid costs associated with things such as administrative overhead.

Kroll described the curriculum as a "classical" education in which courses are infused with faith components versus restricting faith into a separate religion course.

"We teach our kids how to think and not what to think," Kroll said. "We really incorporate and intertwine our Catholic faith into it."

Tough go in Duluth

In making its announcement, Mater Dei reflected on financial challenges in Duluth, where it operated out of Holy Family Catholic Church in Lincoln Park.

"During the past school year, Mater Dei faced several unexpected obstacles resulting in a financial shortfall for the last three months of the year," the announcement said. "While we have managed to complete the school year due to the generosity of donors, faculty, and staff who stepped up during this time of need, we have determined that it is not financially feasible to continue on in our current location at Holy Family Church."

Mater Dei will rent five classrooms in the lower level of Queen of Peace. Initially, the program had been looking to buy land and build in Cloquet. That remains a possibility for the future, Mullen said.

"First things first," Mullen said. "We've got to get our roots down and kind of drum up that support within the community and become a little stronger before we can do something like that."

A new home

From a Queen of Peace perspective, the program was attractive for the way it offers opportunity as well as limited, if any, liability. Town hall meetings with the Queen of Peace congregation revealed "a high level of interest from families," the Mater Dei announcement said. Queen of Peace will not be financing or legally responsible for Mater Dei, either. The program will enter the 2023-24 school year with a proposed operating budget of $240,000.

Father Nelson said the parish is not directly tied to the success or failure of the Mater Dei program.

"I see over time kids in Queen of Peace Catholic School kind of naturally going into Mater Dei," Father Nelson said. "No one sees this as threatening or too big a liability. Those who have the possibility of directly benefiting from it are excited about it."

The Mater Dei program comes with an association with Kolbe Academy, an accredited home school program originating in California. The Mater Dei program coordinates with Kolbe for curriculum, record-keeping and transcripts. Families who desire transcript assistance pay $400 annually per student to manage that piece of their child's education, Mullen said.

"This will be a natural continuation of the education they've been receiving," Father Nelson said. "The same kind of pedagogy, the same curriculum."

Both Nelson and Mullen described "trusting the Lord," throughout talks to relocate Mater Dei to Cloquet.

"It's clear that God is leading us to the Cloquet deanery," Mullen said. "There's a lot of hope for these next steps."


What kind of school is it?

Mater Dei has a web site with answers to frequent questions about its high school model:

What is a hybrid high school?

Our hybrid high school is a blend between a homeschool and conventional school program. Although students are classified as homeschool students in accordance with Minnesota law, they are taught fully by Mater Dei instructors on-site at our education center. Students who follow the full Mater Dei curriculum are on-campus throughout the week and have the experience of a university style brick-and-mortar school. The model is used as an innovative solution to provide affordable, accessible, and authentically Catholic high school education.

Can students participate in courses virtually?

Although in-person participation is preferred and encouraged, classrooms at the Mater Dei education center are equipped with the technology to be "virtual" classrooms. Students may participate in courses remotely if they choose, as outlined in our remote learning policy. All fees and expectations remain the same for these students. No special designation or additional steps are necessary upon registration. All students whether virtual, in-person, part-time or full-time, are required to participate in our Mater Dei community service project, in-person, on the first Friday of each month.

What responsibilities do parents have?

Parents are the primary educator of their child. They have the responsibility of overseeing the student's work and sending work samples and grades to Kolbe Academy for verification at the end of each semester. They are in charge of holding the student accountable for the coursework and providing the necessary support, should they need additional resources (the same thing a parent is expected to do in a public or private school setting). In addition, they are responsible for registering for courses and submitting the necessary forms and paperwork to their resident school district to comply with homeschool regulations.

What responsibilities do the instructors have?

Instructors are in charge of all direct instruction on-site at the Mater Dei education center. They teach the courses fully, including instruction, assignments and grading. They expect students to learn the material assigned through independent practice and homework. Instructors provide feedback to students and their parents regarding their progress in each course. Instructors assign a grade at the end of each semester, which the parent is then responsible for reporting to Kolbe Academy.

What resources does Mater Dei provide?

In addition to on-site instruction from qualified educators, Mater Dei Apostolate provides a supportive community for high schoolers and their families. With parent meetings, information about forms and paperwork, and reminders on deadlines, parents can have confidence they will stay on track as the primary educator of their child. If a parent has a question, we will help find the answer. The student peer community participates in team building activities such as community service, pilgrimages and a variety of enrichment elective courses. In addition, students have the opportunity for daily Mass and regularly scheduled Adoration.

Will students graduate with a diploma and be prepared for college?

Students who follow the full curriculum as laid out by Mater Dei will graduate with a college preparatory high school diploma that exceeds the Minnesota Department of Education graduation requirements. The Mater Dei curriculum provides an academically rigorous course of study while allowing for flexibility if needed. Students may choose to fulfill the basic graduation requirements, or tailor their course of study for a particular prospective college, utilizing Mater Dei for whichever courses fall in line with the path they are pursuing. Kolbe Academy is regionally accredited by Cognia and nationally accredited by the National Association of Private Catholic and Independent Schools (NAPCIS).

Can students utilize the Mater Dei education center to do self-guided coursework?

Students who are registered full-time at Mater Dei (4 or more full-year courses) have a designated area they may use for individual studies that do not line up with the Mater Dei curriculum. These accommodations are provided for full-time students only. Part-time students (1-3 full-year courses) may utilize the Mater Dei education center only for the specific courses they are registered for.

What options are there for self-guided courses if a student is not interested in a particular offering at Mater Dei?

Homeschool students have the freedom to take courses from whatever source they choose, whether that be through a different homeschool curriculum, online courses or classes at a different facility. Any high school level course that fulfills the requirements for a particular Kolbe diploma may be substituted on the student's transcripts. Kolbe Academy itself offers a wide variety of online and self-paced courses for a reasonable fee. Kolbe Guidance Counselors are a tremendous resource for families as they seek to tailor coursework to the individual needs of their child.

Can students take courses at their local public school?

Homeschool students in Minnesota are eligible to take non-elective core courses in their local public school, as defined by law in Minnesota statutes, section 126C.19. Local policy determines which courses are eligible, capacity limitations, and other factors affecting eligibility to enroll. Contact your local public school to inquire about enrollment for specific courses.

Are students eligible for special education services at their local public school?

State and federal law protects the right of homeschool students to receive special education services from the student's resident public district, as defined by law in Minnesota statutes, section 125A.03. Contact your local public school guidance counselor to discuss the student's particular needs.

Are students eligible to participate in Post-Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO)?

All Minnesota 11th and 12th graders (and in some cases, 10th graders) are eligible to participate in PSEO, whether they attend public, private or home school. The flexibility of the Mater Dei education program makes it easy for families to tailor the high school experience to their individual child. As primary educators, parents have complete control over their child's schedule. For campus-specific PSEO registration information, check out University of Minnesota Duluth, Lake Superior College and the College of Saint Scholastica.

If a homeschooling family has its own system for record keeping and transcripts, must they enroll with Kolbe Academy?

If you are confident in keeping your own records and transcripts for courses and are not interested in Kolbe Academy resources or support, then Kolbe Academy enrollment is not necessary. This may be a desirable option for experienced homeschool families who are interested in taking only one or two courses at Mater Dei. However, enrollment with Kolbe Academy is highly recommended for most families, as they are a tremendous resource for providing individualized guidance and support all the way through high school graduation. Mater Dei Apostolate does not provide record keeping or transcript support for courses.

Is there sporting or athletic opportunities?

Students who participate in the Mater Dei education program are registered homeschool students through their resident school district. Homeschool students are permitted to participate in their resident public school athletics and extra curricular activities. See our athletics page for more details.

Is there accountability for students?

Attendance is taken at the beginning of each class period. If a registered student is not present, the parent is notified. Full-time students are not allowed off site for lunch unless given parental consent to do so. Part-time students are only allowed in the Mater Dei education center if they are registered for a class or activity for that time period.

What safety measures are in place?

The Mater Dei education center and Holy Family Parish has a high quality Access Control System with video intercom and a high definition camera system to monitor activities at all interior and exterior locations. Footage is recorded and can be accessed remotely by authorized staff. Mater Dei Apostolate staff and any volunteers working with youth in conjunction with Mater Dei Apostolate are cleared with a background check and complete the Catholic Mutual Group Safe Environment Training.

What are the hours of operation each day?

The Mater Dei Apostolate education center is open from 8:00am-3:20pm Monday-Thursday. Our yearly calendar coincides with the Duluth Public Schools for most breaks and for cancellations due to inclement weather.

Is there bussing or transportation available?

Parents are responsible for transportation of students to and from the Mater Dei education center. As an option, there are two transit stops near Holy Family Parish for the Duluth Transit Authority. For information on fares, passes and route schedules, please visit the Duluth Transit Authority website.

Is there be a lunch program?

Mater Dei Apostolate does not offer a lunch program for participating students. Students are responsible for bringing their own lunch each day. There are microwaves available for use at the education center.

Are uniforms required?

Students participating in the Mater Dei education program are required to wear clothing in accordance with the guidelines of the Mater Dei uniform policy. Men's uniform guide can be found here. Women's uniform guide can be found here. Students participating in courses virtually are required to wear the official Mater Dei Apostolate polo when they are on webcam.

Can non-Catholic students participate?

Mater Dei Apostolate welcomes all students to participate, regardless of religion. Although our curriculum is based on a Catholic world view, there is much benefit that can be derived from a classical approach to education in general, regardless of faith. We seek to renew the world with young adults who have high educational, moral, civic and spiritual values. This philosophy applies to Catholics and non-Catholics alike, and will benefit our society as a whole. It should be noted, however, that the propagation of our Catholic faith is at the heart of our apostolate. The Catholic faith is lived out and embraced daily through various prayers and practices among the students. All registered students are expected to act in accordance with Christian principles and show respect and deference for our Catholic faith and traditions.


Why are students required to participate in one service project per month?

All students whether virtual, in-person, part-time or full-time are required to participate in the Mater Dei community service project in-person, once per month. As a large group, students learn how to work together as a team and build positive relationships while serving the community and those in need. The monthly project is an opportunity to bring all students together, regardless of registration status, thereby facilitating a sense of community among all students in the Mater Dei education program. The required monthly service projects take place on the first Friday of each month and they are finished before noon.


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