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Students track Arlington priest aboard U.S aircraft carrier

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It is all hands on deck at St. Ambrose School in Annandale.  

The 200 students — ranging from pre-K through eighth grade — have signed on for the challenging task of predicting the location of the U.S. Navy’s formidable USS John C. Stennis Strike Group. In particular, they are tracking an erstwhile St. Ambrose parishioner and recently deployed naval chaplain, Father James C. Hinkle.

“Following the aircraft carrier and the battle group is not only a geography lesson, but a service project as well,” said St. Ambrose parishioner Meredith Hinkle — Father Hinkle’s mother and the visionary for the project. 

As a longtime school volunteer, Hinkle suggested to teachers that the students try to guess her son’s location. Principal Angela Rowley liked the idea and the maps Hinkle donated are in each of the classrooms as well as the gymnasium with small photos of a ship placed on the aircraft carrier’s ports of call. A picture of Father Hinkle is put over the photo of the ship at its most recently visited port.

The service aspect is spearheaded by the school’s eighth-grade leadership team, which includes P.J. Coady. Coincidentally, his grandfather, Rear Admiral Philip J. Coady Jr., served with Father Hinkle's dad, RADM Jim Hinkle, USN, on the USS Conolly (DD979), a Spruance-class destroyer.

“I am excited to be part of this program because the Hinkle family has done a lot for our diocese,” Coady said. “I am happy to be able to support Father Hinkle and his ministry with the sailors.”

As part of the leadership team, Coady visited with students in the lower grades to explain the sacrifices made by Father Hinkle and other naval personnel. The leadership team also asked the students to write letters of encouragement to the sailors.  

“This group really took on a leadership role to inform the other students about boosting the spirits of the sailors with a letter, a poem or a drawing, and the teachers in the school actually used it as part of the curriculum since letter writing is one of the skills taught in the language arts class,” said Patty Cummins, the Spanish teacher. “Besides a feel-good service project, it’s become something academically enriching as well.”

Father Hinkle was not available for comment as communication during deployment is often difficult, but his mother attested to his enthusiasm for the letter-writing campaign.  

“Anything that deals with supporting the crew, he’s there,” Hinkle said. “Obviously he can’t cover all 5,000 sailors, but he will try to pick those who have no family or need encouragement on this very long deployment.”

The Stennis’ home port is Bremerton, Wash., with its most recent port of call being Singapore.

Rowley added that there’s a spiritual element as well. 

“Father Jim has come to school giving vocations talks, which makes this project really exciting,” she said. “It’s getting the whole school involved by highlighting vocations, service, letter writing and geography with someone many of them have met. It’s a valuable lesson across the board.”


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018