Sr. Mary Jordan Hoover takes a backward glance

First slide

Sister Mary Jordan Hoover was a principal without a school when she arrived in the Arlington Diocese in June 2007. But for her, planning was one of the most exhilarating parts of helping to create Saint John Paul the Great Catholic High School in Dumfries. "A lot of unknowns of the construction project made it really easy for me to rely on God," said Sister Mary Jordan.

Then her students arrived - 202 of them. Today the school is home to 735 teenagers, she said, with 200 in this year's freshman class alone. Over the years, she has been amazed to see the many sacrifices made by families to provide their children with a Catholic education.

"A few years ago, a parent told me with everything she knew about John Paul the Great she couldn't afford not to send her children here," she said.

One of the unique elements of the newest diocesan high school is its four-year bioethics program. Developed by the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia from Nashville, the program has flourished and is being replicated in other schools around the country, said Sister Mary Jordan. The curriculum is based on science, philosophy and ethics, and teaches students how to address complicated medical issues in view of the dignity of the human person.

Another special part of the school, said Sister Mary Jordan, is its decision to organize its student life by houses. "Each house has their own color, T-shirt design, fun and zany competitions designed to have students get to know each other," said Sister Mary Jordan. "Reflecting back, it's one of the best things we've ever done for the school culture. They stay as a family."

Sister Mary Jordan also takes pride in the "positive Catholic culture" the school fosters. "It's a place where people can freely and happily live out their faith, an environment where being Catholic is cool," she said.

She credits the teachers for living out their faith, caring about the students and working hard to fulfill the school's mission. "We never just let things happen. We discerned our decisions and began everything with prayer," she said.

Since the school's inception, the students themselves have played a crucial leadership role, she said. She's watched proudly as they've been accepted into the universities of their choice, leaving John Paul the Great to bring its message to their new schools.

"As a principal, I was more excited (for those seniors) than I have been at other assignments because we were building everything together," she said.

Many students and faculty members have come into the Catholic faith in the almost decade of the school's existence. Just this Easter, three John Paul the Great coaches were received into the church. "That's what Catholic school is about. Catholic education is about evangelizing the culture and actively spreading the good news of Jesus Christ," she said. "Catholic education will change the world because Jesus Christ will change the world."

Sister Mary Veronica Keller will replace Sister Mary Jordan, who is leaving to start a new Catholic high school in the Diocese of Phoenix. As a Dominican sister, Sister Mary Jordan has devoted her whole life to serving God through education.

When asked what she'll remember about the school, she said, "I think I'm going to remember that we worked so hard to build something great for God. God has done great things in Dumfries for the last nine years. He's still doing wonderful things."

Di Mauro can be reached at zdimauro@catholicherald.com or on Twitter @zoeydimauro.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016