Enrolling over 300 boys in grades seven through twelve, the Priory School offers a rigorous education shaped by the ancient Benedictine tradition's Christian humanism, with particular attention to Roman Catholic theology, classical and modern foreign languages, English and American literature, mathematics and the natural sciences, history, computer science, and the fine arts. It has a longstanding tradition of having the highest percentage of graduating students recognized by the National Merit Scholarship Foundation of any Roman Catholic secondary school in the Saint Louis metropolitan area, and its graduates attend highly competitive colleges throughout the United States and Canada.
The school emphasizes prayer and monastic life on a daily basis. Two days of the week, usually Mondays and every other Wednesday, the students attend a prayer assembly led by the student liturgy leader who picks the hymn to be sung based on the time in the Church year. A Gospel read by either the prior of the monastery or by the headmaster follows the hymn, with a short period of reflection afterwards. On Wednesdays, a psalm is read in addition to the Gospel reading. Every Friday, unless otherwise noted, the students attend all-school mass.
The school has several distinctive features not found at many other high schools. Students must complete a research thesis, a work of creative writing, or a project in the visual or performing arts, as well as participate in community service, as prerequisites for graduation. The school is renowned for its contributions to the art of calligraphy, and students may, after applying, join a school-based guild and attain the title of "Master Calligrapher." Students also can undertake projects in the pre-Medieval art of stained glass.
The founding headmaster was scholar and author Rev. Timothy Horner, O.S.B., who also founded the school's first athletic team, The Rebel Ruggers. He was succeeded by Rev. Paul Kidner, O.S.B., who arrived shortly after the founding. He was in turn succeeded by Rev. Finbarr Dowling, O.S.B. Before being elected to serve as Abbot of the Saint Louis Abbey, former Rhodes Scholar and university professor, Fr. Thomas Frerking, O.S.B. guided the school in the mid 1990s.
Rev. Gregory Mohrman, O.S.B., Class of 1976, the first Priory alumnus to join the monastery, became headmaster in 1995, and held the position for ten years. He was replaced by Rev. Michael Brunner, O.S.B., the school's former assistant headmaster. The Rev. Gregory is now the Prior of the monastery.
The school's dress code is fairly casual. The students are required to wear long pants with a belt, and a collared shirt; the outfit must match reasonably. Jeans are not allowed. For a short time, the students were allowed to wear tennis shoes, but now dress shoes or Birkenstock clogs are required. Whenever an all-school mass takes place or a guest speaker visits, the students are required at a minimum to wear a blazer and tie, with an oxford (cloth) style button-down shirt. On these formal days, cargo pants are extremely discouraged, and only black or brown tie-up shoes are allowed. Some students and faculty choose to wear the formal dress code every day. Failure to follow the dress code results in a demerit. Repeated demerit offenses, including those not dress code related, result in a work-detail on Saturday.
Fr. Michael, current headmaster of the school, expressed in an All-School Assembly his reasons for the dress code. He stated that if the dress code were changed to be formal every day, the students would not be relaxed, and the rest of the school would be tense, creating a difficult environment to work in. He also said that if the dress code was too casual, the students would be too relaxed, also creating a difficult environment to work in. Occasional free dress days occur, whereupon the students are not bound by the standard dress code, though their dress must remain tasteful and unoffensive. These free dress days usually cost a participant on average one dollar, and are put on by the student council to help raise funds for charity, such as breast cancer research.
The school's sports mascot is the Rebels. "The Rebels" comes from the name of the school's first athletic team, The Rebel Ruggers. A version of the Confederate Johnny Rebel figure, then known as General Beauregard, was featured in the school's sports iconography, and a Confederate flag was briefly flown outside the school, until it was taken down due to controversy surrounding the symbolic meaning of the flag. (Anecdotally, during the U. S. Civil War, Missouri had a pro-Union government, Saint Louis was a predominantly Union city, and most Roman Catholics in Missouri during the Civil War were pro-Union.)
The jersey colors are red, white, and blue.
The varsity tennis team, coached by Fr. Ralph Wright, O.S.B. since 1971, is called "The Kestrels", but the official name of the team is still the Rebels.
In late 2006, it was rumoured that the mascot was going to be changed to either "The Ravens" or "The Kestrels", due to more adversity to the name "Rebels". There is also speculation that the change will occur after the Class of 2008 graduates. One option is to change the mascot to a rebel of the American Revolution, such as Paul Revere, so that the school can maintain the name without it causing controversy.
Priory is a member of the suburban ABC League. Other members include John Burroughs School, Lutheran North High School, Lutheran South High School, Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School (MICDS), and Principia High School. Westminster Christian Academy has been a probationary league member, but in October 2007 failed to be elected into full league membership. MICDS and John Burroughs have traditionally been two of the school's biggest rivals. Priory students are required to participate in a sport at least two of the three seasons. In the fall, the school offers cross country, football, and soccer. In the winter, the school offers basketball, rugby, ice hockey, and wrestling. Students may choose to participate in the winter musical in order to fill their sports requirement. The rugby and ice hockey teams are club teams that are not sponsored by the school or state, and don't fill the sports requirement. In addition to practicing with the club teams, members of the rugby or ice hockey teams participate in supervised fitness instruction, including weight training, three days of the week in order to fulfill the sports requirement. In the spring, the school offers golf, track and field, tennis, and baseball. (Although the school has racquetball and squash facilities, it does not field teams in these sports, nor does it have a swimming and diving team, as it once did.) In the winter of 2004, the hockey Rebels received a bid to play in the Wickenheiser Cup, a memorial tournament named for the late St. Louis Blues Center Doug Wickenheiser. During their playoff run, they defeated Francis Howell, the highest ranked small school hockey team in Missouri that season, to advance to the final game against Fox High School. Priory won the championship game, played at the Scottrade Center (formerly Savvis Center and home to the St. Louis Blues), giving the school its first state sports title since 1973.
In the fall of 2005, the Priory varsity soccer team became the first in this sport in Missouri's high school sports history, and the first since state titles were officially sanctioned by the Missouri State High School Athletics Association, to compete for a full season with no losses or ties. Led by All-American Jimmy Holmes, who scored 43 goals en-route to the best metro-player award, the soccer Rebels ended the season with a perfect 26-0-0 record, winning the state Class 2 title. On February 26, 2007, the hockey Rebels won the Wickenheiser Cup for the second time, defeating Whitfield High School 4-3, after a third period comeback. Also in the spring of 2007, the Priory golf team won its first state title, with members Kyle Griege, Michael Kleffner, J.D. Sabio, Tim Finney and Joe Stock, winning by 27 shots. After day one of the tournament, eventual runner-up Pembroke Hill of Kansas City was only behind by three strokes, however the Rebels broke away in the second round, and the final team score was 583, a state championship record for a par-71 course.
In early 2008, it was announced by Fr. Michael that the school is planning to do an extensive renovation of the out-dated athletic facilities. Alumni and parents have been asking for a renovation for many years, but it was not until 2007 (when the roof of the main gym started to leak during a varsity basketball game) when the school started considering this renovation. The school is planning to repair the roof, renovate the very out-dated weight room,the junior school (the building where 7th and 8th graders hold their classes) and also renovate the multi-purpose gym. The school is also planning to add a fence to the baseball field, replace the varsity football field's grass turf with FieldTurf, add stadium type seating to the varsity football and varsity soccer fields, and resurface the track and tennis courts. The renovation will be completed between 2008 and 2010. Starting in the 2008-2009 school year, Priory will be accepting 10 more students per year into the incoming 7th grade. This will make the number of students per grade jump from 70 to 80. Priory is doing this because the renovated Junior School will make room for more lockers and space.
One of the school's major distinctions is the award-winning Abbey Church (1962), also known as the Church of St. Mary and St. Louis and the Priory Chapel. It was designed by Gyo Obata of Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum, with the famous Italian architect and engineer Pier Luigi Nervi serving as consultant. The Abbey Church was an important landmark and name-making project for HOK, now the world's largest architectural practice (according to the 2006 edition of the BD World Architecture 200). The church's circular facade consists of three tiers of whitewashed, thin-poured concrete parabolic arches, the top one forming a bell-tower; the arches appear to float upwards from their grassy base. They are faced with dark insulated-fiberglass polyester window walls which create a meditative translucency when viewed from within. The church also contains a 14th century sculpture of the Madonna and Christ child, a 17th century holy font in the Della Robbia style, and more modern sacred art by artists from the United States, Great Britain, Spain, and France.
On the grounds outside the church sit life-size sculptures of the abbey's patron saints, Saint Benedict, by Lithuanian-born artist Wiktor Szostalo, and the Holy Blessed Virgin Mother Mary, Our Lady of Grace, by American Philip Howie. The Abbey Church also serves as the home church for the Saint Louis Archdiocese parish of Saint Anselm's.
The history of the monastery and school was chronicled by founding monk and original headmaster Fr. Timothy Horner, O.S.B. in his In Good Soil: The Founding of the Saint Louis Priory School 1954-1973 (2001). In this historical and often jovial work, written in his characteristically brilliant and dry style, Fr. Horner described the initial contact with the interested St. Louis Catholic laymen, and brought readers through the difficult but in his mind ultimately rewarding process of founding a new school in the English Benedictine Congregation.
In recent years Priory has started a Tutoria program in which students gather a few times a week to pray. A special form of prayer, lectio divina, is used. In lectio a gospel passage is read through once, and then a second time with pauses in between each line. These pauses are used to reflect on how the line applies to the participant's own life. Students involved with Tutoria are each members of a specific community which prays a few times a week. Also the members of Tutoria (called tutors) meet with Junior Schoolers (7th and 8th Graders) twice a week to pray lectio with a small group. So far in its first few years Tutoria has been a huge success, as the Tutors learn to love prayer and self-reflection, and develop relationships with the younger students.
The Junior Engineering Technical Society (JETS) hosts an annual competition, known as TEAM+S, aimed at "challenging high school students in grades 9-12 to work together as a team to apply knowledge learned in the classroom to real-world engineering scenarios". Priory has performed well over the years in this competition, including a national championship in 2000.
Wickenheiser Cup (Hockey)