Independent classical school marks 50 years

Holy Angels Academy, 12201 Old Henry Road, is one of three independent Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Louisville. The school is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and serves 107 students in preschool through 12th grade. (Record Photos by Ruby Thomas)

Holy Angels Academy — one of three independent Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Louisville — is marking its 50th anniversary this year.

The school was founded in 1973 by a veteran educator, Dominican Sister Elise Groves, along with a “small band of lay faithful,” said Michael Swearingen, the school’s headmaster. Sister Groves was an educator for six decades before her death in 2003 at the age of 90. 

Sister Groves, who served as a teacher and principal at Holy Angels, wanted kids to have a “faithful Catholic education,” Swearingen said.

To that end, Holy Angels, he said, offers a classical curriculum that “forms character, develops virtue and teaches children how to think and what to do. … Naturally flowing from that comes academic achievement.” 

Michael Swearingen serves as Holy Angels Academy’s headmaster.

“We want to help students be what God fully wants them to be,” he said. “We want to guide them towards heaven.”    

Holy Angels serves 107 students in preschool through 12th grade. The preschool was added four years ago and the high school in 1995. 

The school typically serves large Catholic families, noted Swearingen, so having an elementary paired with a high school is a benefit to these families. 

“They’re invested in the school for a decade. People know each other and that’s an advantage to the school’s atmosphere,” he said, adding, it feels like an “extension of the home.”

Bryan Cain, who serves as the school’s director of mission advancement, said an added advantage is that the children know each other well. 

“The small kids have great kids to look up to. For high schoolers, they feel that responsibility. They know they are role models and comport themselves, generally,” he said.

When Holy Angels was founded, Archbishop Thomas J. McDonough gave permission for the school to be an independent Catholic school. That designation, Swearingen noted, gives school leaders some autonomy in decision-making.

In 2016, the school received renewed and expanded recognition from the Archdiocese of Louisville, placing the school under the archdiocese’s umbrella and eligible to benefit from archdiocesan resources. Swearingen said the recognition has been an “immense blessing. It’s been so good for our school, teachers and family.” 

Bryan Cain serves as Holy Angels Academy’s director of mission advancement.

“The fuller recognition has provided faculty and staff with a wealth of resources for professional development. It’s provided families the opportunity to avail themselves of the Catholic Education Foundation and that’s been remarkable,” said Swearingen, referring to the tuition assistance and other resources provided by the CEF. “It’s been instrumental in us providing a Catholic education to those who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford it.”

The school is located at 12201 Old Henry Road in a quiet Middletown neighborhood but got its start in the bustle of downtown in the old St. Philip Neri Church’s former school building on Woodbine Street. Over the years the school occupied St. Louis Bertrand and St. Boniface churches’ school buildings before moving into a former AT&T phone building in Old Louisville, said Swearingen. 

In 1989 Sister Groves and her secretary Marie Noonan went out to Middletown to look at the 10-acre plot on which the school now sits. Sister Groves is said to have asked, “Can we afford it, Marie?” Noonan, who kept the books, gave her the green light and the land was purchased, said Swearingen. The current school building was erected in 2005.

Marie Noonan’s youngest son, Benedictine Father Pius Mary Noonan, was in Holy Angel’s first graduating class and became the school’s first alumni to pursue a religious vocation, Cain said. Father Noonan is a monk at the Abbey of St. Joseph de Clairval in Flavigny-Sur-Ozerain, France. 

Since those early years, the school has steadily grown its enrollment. Holy Angels has doubled enrollment in the past two years, Swearingen said. The school still has room to grow, but he’s committed to keeping it small enough to have a “great student-to-teacher ratio,” he said. 

“An amazing amount of sacrifice and generosity and God’s grace” have gotten the school to where it is. “We hope and pray we have another 50 years,” he said.

The school celebrated its golden anniversary with the 20th annual Sister Elise Benefit, which drew 600 people to the Mellwood Art Center in mid-June. The school also held a 50th Anniversary of Independent Catholic Schools Celebration, a two-day event in June with presentations from various speakers, including Joseph Norton, Holy Angels’ former headmaster. To find out more about Holy Angels Academy, visit

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