Chesterton Academy to Open in Erbil, Iraq – Society of Gilbert Keith Chesterton

Press Release


Society of G.K. Chesterton makes Historic Trip to Iraq

Coincides with Pope’s Historic Visit to Erbil



We are pleased to announce this good news: The Kurdistan Ministry of Education has approved our proposal to open a Chesterton Academy in Erbil. Archbishop Warda and Headmistress Hala Warda announced earlier today that this was unprecedented and a great gift to the Erbil community.

The Chesterton Schools Network eagerly looks forward to our plans to help the Chesterton Academy of St. Thomas the Apostle a reality by this coming fall.


(L to R: Mrs. Laura Hassan, Director of International Programs; Mr. Andrew Youngblood, Director of Curriculum (all from the Chesterton Schools Network); Archbishop Bashar Warda, Chaldean Archdiocese of Erbil; Mr. Fahmi Babaka, Director of Erbil’s Outskirts Education; Ms. Hala Warda, Headmistress of Mar Qardakh School.)

Society of Gilbert Keith Chesterton

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Society of G.K. Chesterton makes Historic Trip to Iraq

Hopkins, MN: Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda invited the Society of G.K. Chesterton to send a delegation to Erbil with the purpose of opening up a Chesterton Academy this fall. The trip coincidentally coincides with Pope Francis’s historic trip to Iraq. The Pope will say Mass in the soccer stadium in Erbil this Sunday, March 7th.

His Excellency learned of our educational model from a former American missionary teacher in his school named Stephen Swain.  The Archbishop was impressed by our educational rigor and faithful adherence to Catholic orthodoxy.

The trip coincides with Pope Francis’s historic papal visit to Iraq. We are also joined by a delegation from the Franciscan University of Steubenville, headed by the President, Father David Pivonka. We will partner with the university to provide teacher training on our curriculum to a number of their graduates selected to become the first teacher faculty in the new Chesterton Academy in Erbil.

Andrew Youngblood, Director of Curriculum and Instruction for the Chesterton Schools Network, Director of the Chesterton Program at Cardinal O’Hara High School in Philadelphia, as well as the Headmaster of Chesterton Cor Jesu, the Online Chesterton Academy, knew as soon as he heard about the trip, that he wanted to go.

“I see it as an adventure,” Youngblood stated, “a chance to bring the Chesterton Academy model to a country I might otherwise never have a chance to visit. I was eager to get here and become immersed in the culture.”

“We traveled here to the Kurdish Republic of Iraq at the invitation of His Excellency Bashar Warda, Archbishop of the Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese of Erbil, KRI,” said Chesterton Schools Network’s Director of International Programs, Laura Bramen Hassan.  “Our goal was to forge a friendship and lay the foundation for establishing a Chesterton Academy in Erbil. The Academy is a key component of the Archbishop’s strategy to stabilize local refugee education systems, which are still recovering from ISIS’ 2014 attack on Christian villages and  Christian refugees’ subsequent displacement to Erbil, the capital of KRI.”

The delegation arrived on Tuesday, March 2nd and immediately began their official visits. They visited Mar Qardakh, a Catholic K-12 school opened by Archbishop Warda, and whose high school he now plans to convert to a Chesterton Academy.

Chesterton Academy of Saint Thomas the Apostle, named after the apostle who first evangelized the area, has been a dream of Archbishop Warda’s since he first learned of the Chesterton Academy Classical model of education.

The immediate goal of the trip was to conduct an informational site visit to solidify planning for the new Chesterton Academy of St. Thomas the Apostle in Erbil, KRI.  The more intentional goal was to establish the relational ties that will forge an enduring partnership with the embattled but resilient Christians of this region.

Ms. Hala Warda (no relation to the Archbishop) is the Headmistress of the new Chesterton Academy, and was eager to meet with Mr. Andrew Youngblood and discuss the curriculum. She is a strong supporter of the classical integrated curriculum and organized a parent meeting for the delegation. Over 70 parents attended on the evening of March 4th, all interested in Chesterton Academy, which expects to open with just under a hundred freshmen and sophomores this fall.

“We’ve met with teachers, students and parents at Mar Qardakh Catholic School, the school within which Archbishop Warda wants to establish a Chesterton Academy track,” said Mrs. Hassan. “Besides Ms. Hala Warda,” she continued, “we’ve also met with His Excellency Alan Hama Saeed Salih, Minister of Education, Kurdistan Regional Government.”

Minister Salih, a close collaborator with Archbishop Warda, met with His Excellency and the Chesterton delegation to learn more about the Chesterton Schools Network classical education model and to formally request a Chesterton Academy school establishment proposal. We submitted our proposal within 24 hours of the meeting,” said Hassan.

“There is also a delegation here with us from Franciscan University Refugee Education Program. We’ve met with Father Dave Pivonka, President of Franciscan University, Dr. Daniel Kempton, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Professor of Political Science and Dr. Tiffany Boury, Assistant Professor and Director of the Catholic Leadership Program,” said Hassan.

“We have been welcomed most warmly by the Kurdish government. Our meeting with His Excellency Alan Hama Saeed Salih, Minister of Education, went very well, and the Ministry is eager to establish this school in their region.” Erbil lies in the north of Iraq in the Kurdistan Region (KRI). The visit has been packed with cabinet-level meetings with educational and governmental officials.

For Laura Bramon Hassan, Director of International Programs at the Society of G.K. Chesterton, the trip was a welcome return. Hassan worked in Erbil in 2017 during the fall of ISIS, supporting education, child protection, and nutrition projects serving Christians, Yazidis, and Shias who fled the Ninewa [Nineveh] Plain to KRI’s capital city.

“Erbil’s internally displaced Christian families have made enormous strides in establishing homes, businesses, and thriving community networks,” Hassan said. “Strengthening the quality and rigor of their secondary educational institutions is the next right step, one that will give them a brighter future and help them stay in their homeland.”

During the parent presentation, Mr. Youngblood explained the hallmarks of the Chesterton Academy curriculum to an interested audience of parents. Ms. Warda served as interpreter and translated Youngblood’s words into Chaldean for the parents.

One of the biggest attractions for the Erbil parents is the three pillars model of spiritual, intellectual and character formation.

The delegation brought a special present for the Archbishop. They chose two very special bottles of wine from Trinitas Cellars. These two bottles are a token of the growing friendship and collaboration between the Archdiocese of Erbil and the Chesterton Schools Network, to launch the first Chesterton Academy in the Middle East. The school is a stunning example of Chestertonian localism, drawing on His Excellency’s vision and Christian families’ deep regional roots to create a school that nurtures and forms the next generation of Iraqi Christian leaders.

Iraqi Christians consist of Chaldeans, Syriacs, Armenians, Assyrians and Arab Christians, with Chaldeans representing the largest group at 80% of the worldwide number of Christians from Iraq. Most Iraqi Christians are Catholics, with a smaller percentage belonging to the Orthodox denomination and a small number of Protestants. A 1987 Iraq census placed the number of Christians in the country at 1.4 million.

In 2003, there were 1.5 plus million Christians living throughout Iraq, from as far north as Zakho to as far south as Basra, Iraq. There are currently an estimated 250,000 Christians remaining in Iraq. Chaldeans, Syriacs, and Assyrians speak languages derived from Akkadian and Aramaic languages; Aramaic is the language spoken by Jesus Christ, and the oldest continuously spoken language in the world. Chaldeans, Syriacs, Assyrians and Armenians were converted to Christianity in the first century by Apostles.

Chesterton Schools Network is committed to providing educational opportunities for one of the oldest Christian communities in the world to help them remain in their historic homeland in the Biblical region near the Nineveh plains.

Chesterton Academy of St. Thomas the Apostle in Erbil, KRI inaugurates our first international school launch in the Middle East. This is a region that has repeatedly witnessed the violent clash of civilizations over the centuries but also offers fertile ground for cross-cultural dialogue and exchange.  The growing demand for our curriculum and educational model, inspired by the wit and wisdom of G.K. Chesterton, indicates the universal appeal of our patron, especially as a model of joy and common sense for young people all over the world.

“This is a historic moment for us,” said Society of Gilbert Keith Chesterton President Dale Ahlquist. “Our first school in the Middle East. We are so pleased to work with Archbishop Warda in collaboration with the Erbil community to help launch this newest Chesterton Academy.”


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About Dale Ahlquist

Dale Ahlquist is President of the Society of Gilbert Keith Chesterton, a worldwide lay apostolate dedicated to Catholic education, evangelization, and the social teaching of the church. He leads the Chesterton Schools Network, which exists to inspire and support the creation of joyfully Catholic, classical, and affordable high schools. around the world.

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