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Bishop O'Connell High School celebrates 60 years of Catholic education

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Remember, rejoice and renew. These are the three ways Arlington Bishop Michael F. Burbidge suggested students at Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington commemorate the school’s 60th anniversary.

The bishop celebrated Mass at the school Jan. 26, two days before the birthdate of the school’s namesake, Bishop Denis J. O’Connell, seventh bishop of Richmond.

"The school is built on a solid foundation because of those who had the courage and vision to build it."

“Dear friends in Christ, I feel as if I have a strong bond with your school,” said the bishop.

“This school is built on a solid foundation because of those who had the courage and the vision to build it,” he said. “So at this Mass, we remember them with love and gratitude and we pray for their eternal happiness.”

In 1949, 20 acres were purchased by six parish priests who believed Northern Virginia needed a Catholic high school. In 1957, the school opened its doors to students from St. James Church in Falls Church, St. Thomas More Church in Arlington, St. Ann Church in Arlington, St. Charles Borromeo Church in Arlington, St. Agnes Church in Arlington and St. John the Beloved Church in McLean. Classes were taught by the De La Salle Christian Brothers and the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. 


Since the school’s founding, the Arlington Diocese was established in 1974, and three more diocesan high schools have been built. The brothers left the school, while the sisters remained. O’Connell students now come from more than 80 different schools or parishes in the Washington area.

“I think there’s a sense of excitement,” said Joseph Vorbach, head of school, commenting on the bishop’s visits to O’Connell.


On the day Bishop Burbidge was announced as the fourth bishop of Arlington, he visited O’Connell. He attended a boys’ basketball game at O’Connell Jan. 19, where Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax won by a foul shot seconds before the clock ran out.

“It was such a close game,” recalled the bishop.

After Mass, the bishop ate lunch with students, visited theology classes and met with the faculty. In honor of the school’s namesake, students celebrated with birthday cake at lunch.

Senior Besa Becaj was one of the students who ate lunch with the bishop. “I felt like he connected with (us).”


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017