Traditionalist Catholic education — with its firm discipline, prayer in school, its uniforms and students silent unless called upon — appears to be thriving on the shores of Lake Mamanasco.
The Society of St. Pius X, the traditionalist Catholic order that has quietly operated at 209 Tackora Trail since 1989, is planning to add a school building and, eventually, a gymnasium to its 13-acre lakeside property.
The school and gym would accommodate growth of St. Padre Pio Academy, which currently has between 40 and 50 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
“We hope to expand not only the size of the school, but eventually, maybe, have kindergarten through 12th grade,” Father Michael Goldade told the Planning and Zoning Commission.
“The anticipated pupil population for the new school is 118 students,” said Michael Lillis of CCA Engineering in Brookfield, who accompanied Fr. Goldade when plans were informally presented to the commission in a Feb. 12 “pre-submission concept discussion.”
The Society of St. Pius X, known for its Latin Masses and rejection of many modernizing church reforms, has run St. Padre Pio Academy for seven years in Ridgefield. It is one of close to 100 schools the society operates around the world.
Fr. Goldade described the school’s philosophy to The Press for a February 2012 feature story.
“The mission of the school is to prepare for the intellectual, spiritual, moral, and physical formation of the child,” he said.
“We try to unify all the facets of education as much as possible. On the spiritual side, there is prayer before class and after class. Once a week there’s mandatory school Mass for them to attend.
“On the moral side, there’s the discipline of the school, which is the school uniform, silence in class, raise their hand to be called upon.
“It’s really a program which practices respect for the office of the teacher and respect for each other.”
The society’s 13-acre property, at the more northerly of Tackora Trail’s two intersections with North Salem Road, has two principal structures. St. Ignatius Retreat House, a converted Tudor-style mansion that dates to early in the 20th Century, has a ground-floor footprint of about 7,600 square feet. The Christ the King Chapel, completed in 2000, has a footprint of about 7,300 square feet. There is also a smaller “dormitory” building of about 1,100 square feet.
St. Padre Pio Academy currently operates out of classrooms in the basement of the Christ the King Chapel building.
The new building would be about 7,600 square feet — the same size as the retreat house, but only one story — with 10 classrooms, a conference room, lavatories, and an administrative office, Mr. Lillis said.
The gym, to be built later, would be of similar size.
“As you drive along 116, that beautiful view of the chapel, will that be blocked?” asked Planning and Zoning Commission Chairwoman Rebecca Mucchetti.
The answer was no.
“It will be behind it,” Father Goldade said.
“It doesn’t offend any of the zoning regulations?” Commissioner John Katz asked.
“The last phase of the project, the gym, there may be coverage issues,” Town Planner Betty Brosius said.
“My only concern is a Health Department concern, as far as a septic system,” said commission member Joe Fossi.
“We have a septic system area that will support the new school,” said Mr. Lillis.
The engineer added that while the gym might double the amount of building space being added, it shouldn’t add to the burden on the septic system since it would be serving the same population of students who attend classes in the school building.
The preliminary site layout by Chicago-based architect David A. Schaefer envisions parking for 92 cars. The Society of St. Pius X has a congregation of about 400 in Ridgefield, with members coming from as far as Norwalk and New Milford for Masses in Christ the King Chapel. There are two Masses every morning, seven days a week.
The Planning and Zoning Commission did not envision difficulties with the society’s plans to expand the school.
“I don’t hear any grave concerns,” Ms. Mucchetti said.
“It looks fine to me,” said Mr. Fossi.
“You can’t have too much God, or too much education,” said Mr. Katz.
Ms. Brosius, the town planner, said the application would be treated as a revision to a special permit allowing the operation of the facilities there today.
“The size of the project is big enough, in a residential zone, that a public hearing would be recommended,” Ms. Brosius said.
Father Goldade said the society would be happy to explain its plans to neighbors.
“They can come by and see me in person,” he said.
“And if you’re charming enough,” Ms. Mucchetti said, “you won’t see them at the public hearing.”