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IHM sisters’ influence lives on as cathedral school marks 75th anniversary

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As St. Thomas More Cathedral School in Arlington celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, the influence of the religious order that ran the school for much of its history still looms large. 

The Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary were teachers and administrators at the cathedral school from 1944 until 1998 and lived in the adjacent convent, now the Bishop’s residence.
“I have a great love for St. Thomas More; it formed me in many ways and has been a very special place in my life,” said Sister Mary Sue Carwile, whose grandparents were founding members of the parish. She graduated from the school in 1969 and went on to become a member of the order, as well as a teacher and school administrator. She is now principal at St. James School in Falls Church.

Even though the sisters have been gone from St. Thomas More for 22 years, “the teachers and leadership do a great job of carrying on the IHM charism of love, creative hope and fidelity,” Sister Mary Sue said. “Our community strives to live (those values) to the greatest degree, so we can give joyful service and really work for God’s people.” 

Those values remain in the school’s DNA, and the staff of 50 works to keep them active —  in continuing to recite “the IHM morning prayer, in how we teach and in how we deliver our curriculum,” said Principal Catherine Adams Davis, who is in her first year at St. Thomas More after working with Sister Mary Sue as a teacher and assistant principal at St. James. “All the IHM traditions have stayed.”

Davis said the school and its 408 current students have been celebrating the 75th anniversary all year, with events such as spirit week and “bring your pet to school day” —  a virtual event made possible because students are connecting from home due to the pandemic. 

Many of the live events that had been planned for this culminating week of the anniversary celebration had to be canceled because of the pandemic. “The celebration is much smaller, but we’re still celebrating,” Davis said. 

To mark the anniversary, the school has created the Sister Maria Angelica Distinguished Alumni Service Award, to honor the sister who taught religion at the school and stayed on until 2007 as the cathedral’s director of religious education. The first recipient of the award is Nelda Thomas, a lifelong member of the cathedral community and assistant principal at the cathedral school since 2014. 

A highlight of the week was a special Mass celebrated by Bishop Michael F. Burbidge and livestreamed from the cathedral May 1, at which he offered his “deep thanks, love and appreciation to all those who have served in this school over the past 75 years.” 

“Please know of the affection and gratitude for your faithful service throughout the years,” he said, noting that the IHM sisters “have a special place in my heart” because he was educated by them —  at two different grade schools, high school and college. 

Bishop Burbidge said that anniversaries such as this are a time to do three things: “remember, rejoice and renew.”

He remembered “all the dedicated Catholic educators who have used their gifts to assist parents” and form children to love and serve God. He rejoiced in the many blessings the students and school community have experienced over the years, and the commitment to excellence the school has shown, even in the face of challenges like the current pandemic. “I am so proud of you and your teachers for continuing your distance learning,” at home, he said. 

He encouraged students to “renew your commitment today to grow in your faith and holiness, do your very best in your studies, be the sons and daughter and family members and friends that God needs you to be,” and encouraged teachers to renew their commitment to the “privileged vocation” of Catholic education. “We are so thankful to you and your vocation,” he said.

Because limitation on in-person gatherings are still in effect as the pandemic continues, only 10 people could attend the Mass in person, and many of those who had planned to be there could not be present, including some sisters now living at the order’s motherhouse, retirement and nursing home at Immaculata University in Malvern, Pa. Sister Mary Sue participated in the Mass as a lector, representing the community. Others planned to watch the livestream from Immaculata.

“I loved every minute of my ministry there,” said Sister John Evelyn, who served at the cathedral school from 1975 to 1977. “It was very special to have the school an integral part of the cathedral parish,” she wrote in an email.

Sister Pat Micklos served at St. Thomas More from 1993 to 1998, as a teacher, vice principal and superior of the convent until it closed. When she arrived in 1993, there was “a wonderful IHM spirit in the parish at large, thanks to the founding sisters and early superiors. There was a great love for the parish and a lot of support, everything was very lively. It as a sad day when we had to leave,” she said in a phone interview.

Other former teachers and administrators now living at Immaculata include Sister Christina Mary, who taught fifth grade, and Sister Carmel Regina Shields, who was principal of the school from 1993 until 1998. “She laid the foundation for a smooth transition to the school’s new lay leadership,” Sister Pat said.

At the end of the Mass, Bishop Burbidge reminded the gathering that it was “the first of May, and the month of May is dedicated to our Blessed Mother. “Out of love, from the cross, Jesus gives us his mother to intercede for us,” he said. 

In front of a statue of Mary, he offered special prayers asking for protection for all those affected by the pandemic, including health care workers serving on the front lines. 

He noted that later in the day Archbishop José Gómez, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, would lead a ceremony to “reconsecrate the nation to her care, especially in this time of pandemic.”


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020