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A farewell to the Oblate Sisters at Holy Cross Academy

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When God closes a door, somewhere he opens a window. When the Daughters of Wisdom closed the doors of Montfort Academy in Fredericksburg in 1998, the loss was felt by many. But that same year, a window opened with the diocese’s construction of Holy Cross Academy in Fredericksburg and the arrival of the Oblate Sisters of St. Francis de Sales.


Now after more than 20 years of dedicated service in the spirit of their founder, the sisters will be leaving their school family to see what windows God will open.


“The Oblate Sisters of St. Francis de Sales have served Holy Cross Academy for more than 20 years and they have made countless and significant contributions to our students and their families,” said Bishop Michael F. Burbidge. “We are ever grateful for their faithful witness and dedicated service and pray that, with God’s help, we will build upon the solid foundation established by the Oblate Sisters.”


Sister Susan Louise, principal of Holy Cross, shared that the sisters “love this community and are very proud to have founded it and worked among the people here.”


“It has been a source of great joy and blessings for us. We have been surrounded by a lot of love,” she said.


When their congregation was contacted by the Diocese of Arlington in 1996 to help lead the school, they sent three sisters: Susan Louise Eder and Frances Carol Eder, who are biological sisters, and Michelle Elizabeth Socorso, eventually replaced by Sister Miriam Elizabeth Cusack.


They attended the school’s groundbreaking in 1997, and worked with the diocese to develop the curriculum. When the school opened Aug. 31, 1998, the sisters welcomed 420 students from surrounding parishes as well as former students and teachers from the closed Montfort Academy. The school initially was an inter-parish school but eventually was adopted by St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church in Fredericksburg.


“When we accept a position, the first thing is to continue to live in community,” said Sister Susan Louise. “The second thing is that our spirituality becomes part of the school and the parish. It is important for us to teach and form teachers in the spirit of St. Francis de Sales so the spirituality may enrich the lives of our school family and teachers.”


The sisters are committed to their students’ academic success, working with teachers and parents to expand classes and extracurricular programs.


“The more we can offer the students, the more we can help them to grow,” said Sister Susan Louise. “We also have a robust music program and band, a wonderful art program, mathletes and science squad. And just this year, we started a robotics program. It’s something we have really been working on and helping to make grow.”


In 2012, they were designated a National Blue Ribbon school of excellence by the U.S. Department of Education for student achievement and for narrowing the achievement gap among student subgroups. In 2018, they received a Purple Star Designation awarded to military-friendly schools.


While improving academics is vital, it’s not everything. “The most important thing is to establish a true family based on the love of Jesus,” said Sister Susan Louise. “People really need that today. It makes a difference in their lives.”


The sisters’ care does not stop at the school doors. Over the years, they have helped the parish and the diocese by leading retreats and meeting with college students at the St. John Bosco Campus Ministry Center at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg.


Sister Frances Carol, a beloved science and religion teacher, coordinates the diocesan science fair, serves on the diocesan accreditation team, and oversees databases and online testing programs.


The sisters encourage their students to look outside the school for service opportunities.


“I am very proud of our school’s commitment to service,” said Sister Susan Louise. “We have several annual school-wide service initiatives such as weekly lunches for the homeless, support of the area baby closet, support of Birthright and Mary's Shelter, support of our Oblate missions and other needs that arise.” As a result, they have become an integral part of the Fredericksburg community along with their students.


Their departure has evoked memories from teachers and parents alike.


According to parent Toni Roberts, the sisters have succeeded in making Holy Cross a family.


“When I think of the first day of school, I recall seeing children greeting and hugging (Sister Susan Louise) as she welcomes them back for another school year,” said Roberts. “At the start of the year, she raises awareness about an issue to parents and follows through the entire year with attention and determination whether the issue is allergies in the classroom or the use of social media by students.


“Sister Frances Carol's love of science, promotion of STEM and great sense of humor are so evident. She has coordinated exciting field trips, led finalists to the Arlington diocese science fair and pioneered the enthusiastic Science Squad.


“In addition to teaching Spanish and watching over children in the after-school program, Sister Miriam Elizabeth has been a supporter and big fan of many HCA sports teams over the years,” Roberts said.


One of Roberts’ cherished memories is participating in vespers with the sisters as part of confirmation preparation for a group from St. Mary’s. “The evening prayers in their chapel were followed by a Q&A session in which the sisters were asked about their vocation. It was so valuable for the confirmation candidates to fulfill a spiritual work of mercy and gain a better understanding of living the faith,” she said.


Pam Hickman has seen the sisters at work firsthand since transferring from Montfort.


“They have created a caring, nurturing school exemplifying the gentle spirit of St. Francis de Sales,” said Hickman. “Through the years, students have always been encouraged to work for the well-being of others. They will truly be missed.”


According to Sister Susan Louise, they have received offers from both inside and outside the diocese, but have not made a decision yet.


“It’s not just about getting a job, it’s accepting a mission,” said Sister Susan Louise.


In the meantime, the sisters are finishing the school year with festivities, including a June 9 reception at the school at 2 p.m. to celebrate the sisters’ legacy and wish them well as they continue on their journey as living witnesses to Jesus’ love and mercy.


Kassock is a freelancer in Stafford.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019