School Community Reacts to News of Oblates' Departure

FAIRFAX — Reactions of members of the Paul VI High School community to the news that the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales will be leaving after the 1999-2000 school year ranged from surprise, to disappointment, to expectation that the spirituality that has sustained the school will continue under diocesan administration. Father Edward T. Fitzpatrick, O.S.F.S., Oblate director of personnel, said, " I know this is a disappointment for everybody, and indeed it is for us too,. However, we simply do not have the personnel to sustain all our schools." Father Donald Heet, O.S.F.S., founding principal, remembered that Paul VI was the first school he had ever been associated with where the Oblates were not the majority of teachers. "There is a strong tradition of lay faculty and I am sure the school will continue to flourish in large part because of the dedicated lay faculty… St. Francis de Sales is known for his spirituality for the laity." Current principal, Father John Lyle, O.S.F.S., started teaching at Paul VI in 1985 and was named principal in 1996. "I was supposed to be here for two year and I’m still here. I think it’s a great school, a great community, and I am confident it will continue. My goal over the next two years is to successfully complete the Capital Campaign, build the Activity Center, complete the renovation project, and continue to make Paul VI the best Catholic high school in the area. When we entrust her back to the diocese I want to leave not only a magnificent plant, but an outstanding school community of students, parents and faculty." Teachers AT Paul VI expressed disappointment over the news, but hope that the spirit of St. Francis de Sales will remain. Religion chair Helen Brewer said, "We have been blessed with so many fine good Oblates here at Paul VI. The thought of their leaving us is devastating… Their spirit has motivated the growth of not only our students, but our faculty and staff as well. Their spirit, however, is what will sustain us in the future for it is truly God’s spirit. Our school will always be Catholic, Salesian and excellent, in part because of the Salesian legacy." Anne Henry-Gross, one of 14 faculty members who participated in a weekend retreat last spring at the Oblate Retreat House, teaches the 30 seniors who chose Salesian spirituality as their religion elective. She also moderates the Salesian Spirituality Club and says members are unhappy about the Oblates leaving. "Salesian spirituality has made a tremendous impact on their lives," Henry-Gross said. "It has expanded their thinking and made St. Francis’ spirit real for 1990s America." After hearing the news from Father Lyle on the morning announcements, sophomore class president, Megan said, "This was a big shock. Totally unexpected. We will be affected because Father Lyle is a very unique kind of principal. He’s helped the school in so many ways. We’ll flourish without him, but it won’t be the same." Moran’s class will be the first to graduate after the Oblates have left. Parents too were saddened to hear the news. Father Lyle sent letters to all parents, but he had the opportunity to deliver the news personally at a PTO meeting. According to Rhonda Roberts, PTO publicity chair," People were crying. It was pretty sad. I was dumbfounded. Father Lyle is such an important person to the school." Father Fitzpatrick believes Paul VI will remain strong even without the Oblates. "The Oblates will carry some of the spirit of Paul VI in us and hopefully some of the Oblates’ spirit will always be a part of Paul VI," Father Fitzpatrick’s hope will come true. "As a school community we will continue to follow St. Francis de Sales’ spirituality as reflected in the motto the school was established on: "To Grow in Grace and Wisdom."
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