Interview with the Headmaster, Part I
The first of a two-part interview with Peter Ohotnicky, Headmaster for Chesterton Academy of Detroit.
Q: Ok, first things first. How do we pronounce your name?
A: Yes, that’s a common question. It’s pronounced oh-HOT-nick-ee. Just like it’s spelled, really. Accent on the second syllable. The name is of Slovak origin.
Q: Tell us a little about yourself.
A: I grew up in Michigan, living in Ypsilanti and Saline as a child, and I graduated from Milan High School. I was raised in a family of practicing Catholics. My education continued at the US Air Force Academy, graduating in 1992 with a degree in Engineering Mechanics and Applied Math. I earned my pilot wings before going to graduate school at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, completing a Masters degree in Metallurgical Engineering. That’s where I met my wife Sherry. I then spent most of the next 10 years flying as a cargo pilot and instructor pilot in pilot training for the Air Force. I deployed four times during those years. Then, I was assigned as a physics professor at the Air Force Academy, also serving as the Director of Communications for the Academy’s academic dean. Next, I was assigned as a commander in Air Force Basic Training with the brand new recruits and the “drill sergeants.” It was a phenomenal mission taking civilians and transforming them into Airmen in just 8 weeks! From there, I went to Alaska where I was Deputy Chief of Staff for Alaskan Command; our headquarters was basically doing the NORAD and NORTHCOM missions for homeland defense in Alaska. Finally, I returned to the faculty at the Air Force Academy as a physics professor to culminate a 25-year active duty career in 2017. For the past two years, I have been teaching AP Statistics and AP Calculus at the McCallie School, an all-boys, Christian, day and boarding college prep school in Chattanooga, TN. While there, I also served as the Director of Analysis and Research for the National Center of the Development of Boys. I have a Masters of Education from the University of Illinois in Chicago.
Personally, I have been married to Sherry for 24 years this summer. We have seven children, ages 23 to down to seven. I am an avid outdoorsman; I enjoy backpacking, hiking, cycling, rafting, canoeing...all kinds of outdoor adventure. For many years, I have been very involved with my kids and other young people developing character through Boy Scouts, American Heritage Girls, and Trail Life USA as an adult leader. Finally, I very much enjoy singing sacred music, especially chant and polyphony. My favorite composer is Giovanni Palestrina.
Q: You mentioned your wife Sherry. Tell us about her.
A: Sherry is wonderful! We have been married nearly 24 years. She grew up in New Jersey and graduated from MIT in 1993 with a degree in Materials Science and Engineering. We met at the University of Illinois, where she earned a Masters in Materials Science and Engineering. Since we married, she has been a faithful supporter in my military career. She has devoted herself to the homeschooling of our children using a classical, Catholic curriculum similar to that used at Chesterton Academy. I have always told my students: “The smarter Ohotnicky teaches my kids; you guys are stuck with me.” She is a lifelong Catholic as well, and for these past five years has been the Chair of the American Heritage Girls National Catholic Committee.
Q: Seven kids! You are blessed. Tell us about them.
A: Yes, like most parents, we are proud of our kids. They are great examples of how classical education serves to develop a child into a truly human person. Our oldest are twin girls: Sister Mary Imelda and Colette. Sister is with the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecelia, generally known as the Nashville Dominicans. She took her first vows two years ago and will finish her student teaching this coming year in preparation for becoming an elementary school teacher. She is so happy and has been thriving in Nashville. Colette graduated from the University of Dallas and is currently pursuing a Masters in Environmental Arts and Humanities at Oregon State University. She has a deep love for the natural world--God’s first book. She is working on her thesis, which involves incorporating the Western tradition on beauty, enchantment, and the truth of the human person to inform natural resource management. Our oldest son is Charlie, who just finished his second year as a seminarian with the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Denton, Nebraska. He went straight from high school to seminary, which is unusual in the Fraternity. He is succeeding both academically and spiritually, due in no small part to his classical, Catholic education. Our daughter Therese will attend Christendom College in the fall, where she will major in Classical and Early Christian Studies; one of her passions is the classical languages of Latin and Greek. Her other passion is the organ where she has a wonderful talent, so she will also be the principal organist for Christ the King Chapel on campus at Christendom. Our three youngest are energetic, outdoorsy, athletic boys: Patrick is 15, Thomas is 10, and Andrew is 7.
Q: Why have you chosen classical, Catholic education for your children?
A: We decided early on that homeschooling was going to be the right choice for our kids while I was in the military. It was the best way to give them a consistent Catholic education and formation. As we explored options, Sherry and I found the classical approach to be really attractive. We obviously had a strong math and science background, but we also wanted them to be well-formed overall in their minds and hearts, to have affections for what is true, good, and beautiful, and to see how faith integrates in all aspects of learning. Sherry had read a great deal of excellent literature in high school and college on her own; I had a broad liberal arts education from the Air Force Academy. We recognized that all of that learning was helping us to have a good family and home life, to understand the challenges of the modern world, to lead others in work and community, and to grow in our Catholic faith. As our children got older, we became even more convinced about classical education when we saw how joyful they were, how they loved reading, were proud to be Catholic, wanted to serve Christ in the Church and community...in just so many ways their classical education has made a big difference.