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Bishop O’Connell High School celebrates the dedication of its new chapel

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It’s easy to picture the small, stone chapel topped with a Celtic cross in the midst of the emerald Irish countryside. Instead, it’s nestled next to the red and yellow bricks of Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington. The $3.5 million worship space is part of a $24 million construction project that has given the school a new atrium, campus ministry center, a turf field and more classrooms.

Bishop Michael F. Burbidge dedicated the Immaculate Heart of Mary Chapel July 16. In his homily, he spoke about the mission that animates the school. “Every day, no matter what subject area, no matter what part of the building we’re in, we are able to share with our students that Jesus is alive and with us, to invite them to encounter him, to turn to him in your time of need,” he said.

“To become, as St. Paul says, living stones — meaning that from this building and nourished by God’s word and the Eucharist, we become those living stones who build up the kingdom of God through our charitable outreach and care and concern for others, especially those in most need, helping them to see the face of Christ.”

The chapel’s name honors Our Lady and the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the religious order that has staffed the high school since it opened in 1957. Several of the sisters attended the Mass along with administrators and alumni. “They’ve been there from the creation of the school and they continue to be an enormous presence,” said Head of School Bill Crittenberger. “They’re just a tremendous group of women.”

While schoolwide Mass will continue to be celebrated in the large auditorium, daily Mass, adoration and confession will be in the chapel, which seats about 160. “Our classes are about 275 to 300 (students), so we can take each class and have half the class in Mass in the new space, which is just so beautiful,” said Crittenberger.

Funds for the chapel and campus ministry center were donated by the eight children of Robert and Elizabeth Murphy, all graduates of Bishop O’Connell. “O'Connell means a lot to us and it meant a lot to our parents,” said Bob Murphy, the oldest of the siblings. “Both of my parents grew up in Washington and most of the members of our family who lived in Northern Virginia went into Washington for high school because there weren't any Catholic high schools in Arlington. Their early commitment to O’Connell allowed all of us to have a school that was close to home that became very much a part of our lives. All of us still have close friends who were in our classes when we went to O’Connell.”

When the siblings learned about the capital campaign to improve the school, the chapel and the campus ministry center jumped out at them as both a wonderful undertaking and the perfect way to remember their parents. “The chapel itself is just incredibly beautiful, it’s very simple but it’s got a dignity and a sacred presence there that is unmistakable,” said Murphy. “(You) just feel very much at home with the Lord when you walk in there.”

Murphy said he and his siblings were touched when Bishop Burbidge spoke in his homily about leaving the doors of the chapel open for everyone. “High school is a lot of fun, it's a time for new experiences and growing, but it's also very challenging,” said Murphy. “To have a place that is there no matter where you are in your journey and what your problems might be, a place that is welcoming and open and available to you, either just to sit and pray or receive the sacraments, that’s just a huge gift to the students.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021