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Sr. Karl Ann Homberg retires after 39 years serving Arlington Catholic schools

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Sister Karl Ann Homberg met the Sisters of St. Joseph as a first grader at Our Lady Queen of Peace School in Baltimore, a five-minute walk from home. “I always thought they lived a special life. They were focused on the children, and on helping us to grow closer to God,” she said.  

Focusing on God and the children — or “the kiddos,” as she calls them — has been the path she has taken in her own life as a Sister of St. Joseph, and as a teacher, principal and school administrator. She’ll retire at the end of June after 39 years in the Arlington diocese, 31 of those as assistant superintendent in the Office of Catholic Schools.

“You are beloved in the Diocese of Arlington,” Bishop Michael F. Burbidge told her at a recent reception in her honor. “You are someone who got up every morning and said ‘yes’ to the mission entrusted to you. You’ve been an example of love, and you’ve honored St. Joseph in a profound way,” he said.

Superintendent Joseph E. Vorbach said she has set an example of “rigorous excellence” as well as gentle encouragement of educators. Her love of children is evident, and they return her affection: Vorbach recalled watching her read to a group who gathered on the floor around her and kept “scooching up closer” as she read. 

Sister Karl Ann, 70, entered the Sisters of St. Joseph in Chestnut Hill, Pa., in 1970 and taught elementary and middle school for several years before being tapped to study school administration. She became principal of St. Philip School in Falls Church in 1982 and joined the Office of Catholic Schools in 1990, first as assistant superintendent for elementary schools, then as assistant superintendent for school leadership in 2014. 

During an era of growth and the advent of technology, her focus has been on accreditation, curriculum and assessment, as well as keeping abreast of new research on how children learn. She’s also helped “keep the emphasis on our Catholic identity, making sure schools are mission-driven in that respect,” she said. She’s often visited schools to meet with principals and ask children, “What’s important for me to know about your school?”

“This year in particular they have been very happy to be in school,” she said, after having left mid-March last year not knowing when they would return. For that she commends the “exceptional Catholic educators” she works with, “very dedicated individuals who value their faith and want to share that faith,” while also focusing on academic excellence. 

“Would I do it all over again? Yes, I would,” she said.  

After her retirement, she’ll remain in residence at St. James Church in Falls Church with the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM), who invited her to stay with them when her convent at St. Rita Church in Alexandria closed last summer. “I’m the only SSJ in the Virginia area at this point,” she said. 

She has four older brothers and a younger sister who all live within a five-mile radius of their dad, who turned 96 in March and still lives in the Baltimore home where they grew up. Her mother died in 2009. 

At St. James, she’ll work part time in the library with children in kindergarten through sixth grade, and will help out in whatever other ways she is needed.

“Nuns never retire, they just go from one job to the next,” said Marie Powell, one of several former superintendents who returned for the reception. “But wherever you go, it will be a gift.” 

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021