DULUTH – Duluth's Stella Maris Academy will open a high school this fall in a former orphanage and youth treatment center in Duluth's Woodland neighborhood, making it the first traditional Catholic high school in the city in more than 50 years.

The Catholic school system, with three campuses throughout Duluth, purchased the recently closed The Hills Youth and Family Services for $4 million. Private donations financed the purchase of the 140-acre property.

The addition of high school grades had been planned for years, and the academy announced in February it would happen by fall of 2022. Initial plans didn't include a new building, but the sudden availability of a campus suited to their needs changed those plans, said Andrew Hilliker, academy president.

"We feel very blessed," he said.

Stella Maris, with 530 students this year across its pre-K to eighth-grade populations, experienced an enrollment boom in the past couple of years, partly because of the effects of the pandemic. The addition of 50 new students just this year would have made it difficult to add high school grades to existing space, Hilliker said. The new facility is large enough to allow space for other community use, he said.

The Diocese of Duluth built St. James Orphanage in 1910, and it remained an orphanage until 1971, when it was purchased by The Hills, then known as Woodland Hills.

"This brings it back to our church community, which is providential and beautiful," Hilliker said.

It's also close to the academy's St. John's campus, which serves grades 5-8. Some renovations will be made to the new school, but it's already equipped with a gym, cafeteria and secure entrances. It will serve freshmen and potentially sophomores this fall, adding 11th and 12th grades in a staggered approach. Stella Maris now has about 45 eighth-grade students enrolled between its two middle school campuses.

Financial troubles forced the summer closure of The Hills, which served as a residential juvenile justice and youth treatment facility and had operated in some form since 1909.

Jana Hollingsworth • 218-508-2450