East Hopkinton -- Montrose School, a private school for girls in Natick planning to buy land from Weston Nurseries, was founded on Opus Dei's principle of pursuing excellence and God in daily life.
Opus Dei, a personal prelature of the Catholic church - a diocese without a geographic location - was founded by St. Josemaría Escrivá in 1928. The Catholic-based philosophy gained worldwide attention in October 2002 when Pope John Paul II canonized Escrivá, who died in 1976, according to the organization's official Web site at http://www.opusdei.org.
In 1979, a group of parents and educators, who were also members of Opus Dei, founded Montrose, which set out to teach a liberal arts curriculum with a focus on strong student-teacher relationships and moral guidance in concert with students' parents, according to the school's Web site.
Since that time the school has enjoyed academic successes but found their search for a permanent location elusive, said Paul Nobel, chairman of the school's board of trustees.
Montrose graduates have been accepted to MIT, NotreDame, Harvard and Yale, but their grade school transcripts have been sent from a handful of locations.
After moving from their original location in Brookline, the school traveled to Westwood and then to Natick.
But the moving may soon be over. Early this month, Montrose entered a sales agreement with Weston Nurseries to buy 38 acres of its land on East Main Street for $3.8 million.
Part of the reason the school has not achieved accreditation yet, said Ed Noonan, a Montrose founder, is that they've never had a permanent location.
"That's why this Hopkiton matter is so important to us," Noonan said.
Montrose turned its attention to Hopkinton, Noonan said, for four reasons.
First, the town has become a popular spot for young families with children, making it an ideal location for a private school with plans to expand. Also, he said, many students hail from Hopkinton.
The town also still offers more land available for building than many other local towns, he said.
Lastly, "The competition in the Hopkinton area is a lot more limited," than in Natick, for example, Noonan said.
The private girls school has 124 students in grades six through 12 and needs more space as well as a permanent home. According to its Web site, students "learn to respect the dignity of all persons, to develop a personal relationship with God and to put academic excellence at the service of God and others."
Nobel said he is not a member of Opus Dei, but sent his daughter, Loren, to the school. She graduated in 1999 as her class valedictorian.
"My wife and I both consider it the best decision we ever made as parents," Nobel said.
Noonan said that while the students and their families are likely to belong to the Catholic faith, it's not a requirement for admission. Neither, he said, is membership in Opus Dei, though some administration members and students practice the philosophy.
"Opus Dei folks are fine Catholics. They just don't happen to run that school," Nobel said.
Nobel, who attended a Catholic high school, said there is a fundamental difference between what he experienced and what is taught at Montrose: character and values are an integral part of learning at the institution.
Every week at home room, Nobel said, teachers lead classroom discussions called "character talks". During the talks students are counseled in the value of donating time and money to charities, in virtue and the importance of obedience to their parents.
The talks and focus on good character is a part of teaching at every grade level at Montrose, Nobel said.
While the Pope has sainted Opus Dei's founder, the organization itself doesn't enjoy unchallenged popularity.
An Internet search of the philosophy of Opus Dei turned up several news articles referring to the organization's controversial nature.
One Web site, the Opus Dei Awareness Network (ODAN), attributes cult-like practices and brain washing to the group.
"I met Opus Dei through some classmates," in college, Noonan said.
When asked what attracted him to the group, "I'd say the commitment, the serious commitment to living all aspects of our life well," Noonan said.
Through their work, said Noonan, an investment banker, Opus Dei members feel they are serving God and society. Because of that, keeping their religion in mind in every day life, not just while visiting church, is integral to their beliefs.
"It's a very key aspect of Montrose as well," Noonan said.
Critics of Opus Dei say the organization pressures people into relinquishing free will, discourages interaction between members and their families and teaches harmful self-mutilation, or "corporal mortification".
But Nobel's presence as a Catholic who doesn't practice Opus Dei at all seems to reaffirm free will at Montrose.
When asked why he's not a member of Opus Dei, "I'm not a priest, either. How come?" Nobel countered, "I haven't chosen to join."
Also, the school's principle of involving parents in the teaching process runs contrary to the claims of Opus Dei critics.
"It's extremely important, this link between the parent and teacher," Noonan said, "We demand that the parents meet regularly with the advisor."
Regarding corporal mortification, Noonan said the practice is a daily part of Opus Dei members' practices. Some members, he said, use a chilice - a spiked chain worn around a person's leg during the day, but those are unusually ardent followers.
Corporal mortification for Opus Dei members is more often in the form of some symbolic self-sacrifice or act of self discipline, he said.
"Just think of the training, the discipline of a football player," Noonan said.
Most often, Noonan said, self-mortification takes the form of avoiding a certain kind of food or making your most difficult chore of the day the first thing you do.
Part of Noonan's daily routine, for instance, he said, is to read the New Testament for five minutes and to pray for five minutes.
Exercises like this are done, Noonan said, "To reinforce self-discipline and to make ourselves stronger."
Whether someone agrees with the practices of Opus Dei, Noonan said, is left up to the individual to decide, and while some students and faculty at the school are members of Opus Dei, some are also traditional Catholics, and you don't need to belong to either group to enroll in the school.
"We can be holy people, we can be fruitful people in the world. We don't have to be in a monastery," Noonan said of the philosophy he and his fellow Opus Dei followers practice.
Boiled down, that philosophy inspires an attitude which inspires excellence in all aspects of life, Noonan said.
"There's nothing new about that," he said.