Priority on education

First slide

After Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde broke ground for construction of a new diocesan high school in Dumfries Sept. 6, 2006, he addressed several students from local diocesan elementary schools.

"You're a wonderful group," he said. "You give us hope."

The groundbreaking for Saint John Paul the Great Catholic High School illustrated the bishop's vision of hope. With more than 18,000 students in 45 diocesan schools at that time, it was Bishop Loverde's goal to make Catholic education more accessible to families in the southern part of the diocese, especially given the population growth in that region.

"We build because we have a vision of excellence in Catholic formation, academic instruction and outreach to our community," Bishop Loverde said.

According to the school website, the new school was the first high school in the country to include "the Great" with the late pontiff's name. It became a reality following the donation in 1997 of 40 acres of land on the Cherry Hill peninsula south of Woodbridge. At a cost of more than $60 million, the school was constructed through bonds, fundraising efforts and ongoing payment of pledges to the diocesan "Rooted in Faith - Forward in Hope" capital campaign.

A glass-walled chapel was constructed in the middle of the school. Bishop Loverde stressed the importance of the design, noting "at the center and core of this building and community and likewise of our lives is Christ in the Eucharist." The chapel would become home to the tabernacle blessed by Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to Washington in 2008.

Bishop Loverde invited the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, also called the Nashville Dominicans, to staff the new school. The sisters introduced an integrated bioethics curriculum, the first of its kind in the country, intended to educate each student on ethical decision-making and issues, especially at the beginning and the end of life.

Two years after breaking ground, Bishop Loverde welcomed the first 200 students. He said he hoped that the new school would "be the place where countless will encounter and be embraced by that Divine Love modeled in Christ Jesus, and then, go forth to live that love in concrete ways in the real world."

In the hope of better serving the needs of the growing population in the western part of the diocese, Bishop Loverde announced in June 2015 the relocation of Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax to a 68-acre property acquired by the diocese in Loudoun County.

Established in 1983 by Arlington Bishop Thomas J. Welsh, Paul VI has occupied an 80-year-old facility on an 18-acre campus. Given that enrollment is capped and the Fairfax site has no possibility for expansion, the diocese made the decision to move the school to a new state-of-the-art facility projected to open in 2020. With more than 92,000 Catholics living in western Fairfax County and in Loudoun County, building the new school in South Riding will serve the population in the fastest-growing county in the state.

"The relocation of Paul VI High School to a world-class facility ensures that future generations of students in our diocese will receive Catholic education at the highest level of excellence," said Bishop Loverde.

Witko can be reached at mwitko@catholicherald.com.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015