Paul VI High School breaks ground in Loudoun County

First slide
First slide
First slide
First slide
First slide
First slide
First slide
First slide
First slide
First slide
First slide
First slide
Previous Next

Bishop Michael F. Burbidge and members of the Paul VI Catholic High School community broke ground for their new campus Feb. 16. The school hopes to move from its 18-acre site in Fairfax to the 68-acre campus in Loudoun County by the fall of 2020. When finished, it will be the largest private high school in the county, capable of serving 1,200 students with the possibility of later expansion. 

Gold and black balloons, uniformed students and the Panther mascot in a yellow safety vest greeted the guests as they arrived at the construction site. Oblate Father Donald J. Heet, the first principal of the school, joined current Principal Tom Opfer, class of 1996, and Head of School Ginny Colwell. Alumni mingled with Paul VI teachers and administrators, priests, other diocesan teachers and local elected officials such as Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Va., who represents the county. 

“It’s really exciting to have the expansion of this well-known school into this Loudoun community,” she said.

Bishop Burbidge opened the groundbreaking ceremony with a prayer, and sprinkled holy water on the site. “Any architect will tell you that the success of the building depends on the foundation,” he said. “So we know that this is going to be a successful building project because our foundation is Christ Jesus.”

Students read from the Bible, including the psalm, “Our help is from the Lord.” As blustering winds and light rain threatened to tear down the tent in the midst of the reading, Bishop Burbidge joked, “Good thing our help is from the Lord.”

Jennifer Bigelow, diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools, remarked, “When Paul VI was first opened in 1983, it was a new school moving into an old building. Now it’s an established school moving into a new building right here.” 

After the remarks, members of the school community donned hard hats and used gold-colored shovels to scoop a bit of soil at the future home of Paul VI. In the background sat cranes and cleared earth, signs of the progress already made.

Doug Gehley, a project manager for the architectural firm VMDO, has worked on Paul VI’s construction since 2015. He is a graduate of Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, and was teased by colleagues not to add too much blue, O’Connell’s school color, to the new Paul VI. “As I said, it will be a real joy for me and a culmination of my career to design a high school for the diocese after going through 12 years of Catholic education,” he said. 

The plans for the new school will make use of the much-needed space and have a more college-like feel, said Gehley. “The site is huge, the buildings are spread out. We wanted to create a collegiate campus. This is preparing them for the next step in their lives,” he said. 

Trish Byrne, class of 1986, and her daughter, MacKenzie, a current student, were there to witness the historic event in the life of the school. Trish has fond memories from her time at Paul VI. “To this day, we still talk and it’s a nice core group. We feel like we walk right back into high school,” she said.

The family lives nearby and looks forward to a shorter drive to school. “It’s going to be a lot bigger, so I’m a little nervous but excited,” said MacKenzie. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018

@ZoeyMaraistACH