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Saint John Paul the Great in Dumfries begins its 10th year

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What can happen in a decade? A lot of great things.

Those who have been following the development and progress of Saint John Paul the Great Catholic High School in Dumfries since opening in 2008 — or even earlier during the construction phase — may wonder how it is possible that the school is beginning its 10th year.

The faculty and staff who helped open the school are just as perplexed about where the time has gone, yet grateful for how far they’ve come and excited about what the future holds.

“It’s hard to believe we are about to begin our 10th year,” said Jennifer Cole, the school's first director of admissions and marketing. “It seems like only yesterday we were establishing policies and procedures and trying to figure out who we were. Today we have a vibrant, faith-filled community with students achieving at the highest levels in academics, athletics, and many other areas.”

“But, beyond what we’ve done,” Cole said, “I think the most meaningful part of our story is about who we have become. Our faith life, care for students, and the integrity with which our staff and families embrace our mission each day has made for a truly great Catholic school.”

Since 2008, the student body has grown from 200 to more than 750, and with it programs and opportunities for students also have grown. The flagship bioethics curriculum was experimental at first, because no other high school had attempted it. Now with seven graduating classes and thousands of students who have taken bioethics courses, the proof is in.

“When our graduates speak about their experience here, they always seem to mention bioethics and its impact on their thinking and living,” said Dominican Sister Terese Auer, chair of the bioethics department and author of the curriculum. “Our experiment of trying to bring college philosophy down to the high school level has been successful. The bioethics courses aren't easy, but the students like the challenge of thinking critically and arguing meaningfully about the relevant issues of our day.”

According to feedback from faculty and staff, it’s not uncommon for John Paul graduates to come back and share that they stand out on their college campuses. Many are involved with defending the dignity of the human person in their classrooms, clubs or circle of friends. Some also engage their professors and fellow students with facts about ethical topics not popular in today’s college climate.

“I love having had the opportunity since the opening of this school to help form the students of Saint John Paul the Great to be persons who are able to think critically and to judge rightly about ethical issues that are extremely important today,” said Sister Terese, the only Dominican Sister of the original four still serving at the school.

Veteran art department chair Bill O’Connor comes to the conclusion that, “the accomplishments and growth at JP over the last 10 years are too numerous to state, but it's the same great place to be today as it was when we first opened.”

The school plans to kick off its 10th year with the release of a new logo, prayer card and other celebratory signs around the school. Events will be planned all year to mark the milestone.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017