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O’Connell head of school becomes superintendent

First slide

Joseph E. Vorbach III can see the big piles of dirt from his window at Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington. Construction has begun on a new academic building and a 160-seat stone chapel — a welcome upgrade for the 62-year-old high school. Vorbach says the intense and challenging project also has been one of the most rewarding he’s been a part of during his 11 years working at his alma mater. This summer, he’s trading that view for one a few miles away as he transitions to his new role as the diocesan superintendent of schools.

“Dr. Vorbach is a successful school administrator, a highly respected leader, and most importantly a devout Catholic gentleman who will assist me in this ministry by helping to lead our schools with great skill and an authentic witness to our faith,” said Bishop Michael F. Burbidge.

Vorbach will replace Jennifer Bigelow, who has been superintendent since 2016. She will become associate superintendent for curriculum with the Diocese of Richmond.

Vorbach credits his many mentors for his love of education, starting with his parents. “The traits they shared most strongly in common were their faith and their interest in constantly learning, valuing knowledge and the pursuit of understanding,” he said.

The caring teachers at O’Connell made their mark on him as well. “I’m still in touch with friends and mentors, including a coach who was very impactful in terms of helping young people keep faith and balance in their lives,” he said. His geometry teacher memorably showed him the connections between art and math. An English teacher encouraged him and his classmates to write and gave him a rosary on the day of his graduation.

After high school, Vorbach continued his studies at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., where he graduated in 1987.  “My comparative politics instructor at the academy was a young lieutenant who had just graduated from the Fletcher School at Tufts University with a degree in international relations. I remember saying that's exactly what I want to do,” he said. So he earned his doctorate at Tufts in Boston and later taught American foreign policy, international relations and similar classes at the Coast Guard Academy.

While living in Arlington and working at the National Defense University, he began considering a career change. “My son was rehearsing with the choir at St. Ann (in Arlington) one night and I was waiting nearby, reading the Catholic Herald, when I saw the ad for the principal position,” he said. “I thought I could bring something to the table, so I inquired and ultimately applied.”

Vorbach started working at O’Connell in 2008 and transitioned into the head of school role in 2013, the same year he earned his master’s degree in school leadership from Marymount University in Arlington. He and his wife of nearly 28 years, Colleen, have two children, Dylan and Mary Frances, who both graduated from O’Connell. He and his wife are parishioners at St. Philip Church in Falls Church.

During his time at the high school, Vorbach and his colleagues worked to further the school’s faith mission. “It sounds trite to say but we’re not trying just to get them into college, we’re trying to get them into heaven,” he said. “The whole mission here is that when life presents these young people challenges, they will have their faith to reach to. We help them develop their abilities, to use the gifts God’s given them, to have that sense of God’s presence.”

Vorbach is looking forward to the new challenge of using his gifts in service of all diocesan schools. “There’s a lot of really good people at the diocese whom I’ve come to know over the years,” he said. “I’m privileged to join the team and make my contribution.” 

 Bishop Burbidge’s statement

The Most Reverend Michael F. Burbidge has appointed Dr. Joseph E. Vorbach, III as Superintendent of Schools for the Diocese of Arlington, effective July 1, 2019. Dr. Vorbach is currently Head of School at Bishop Denis J. O’Connell High School, in Arlington, Va. This appointment follows a search process conducted by a committee of highly-talented Catholic educators, led by the Reverend Lee Roos, Pastor of All Saints Church in Manassas. The committee reviewed applications from many qualified candidates from across the nation and recommended Dr. Vorbach as the most outstanding candidate.

Dr. Vorbach is a 1983 graduate of Bishop O’Connell High School. He received a Bachelor’s degree in Government from the U.S Coast Guard Academy, a Master’s degree and a Doctorate in International Relations from Tufts University and a Master’s degree in Education from Marymount University in Arlington. After a 20-year career in the U.S Coast Guard, Dr. Vorbach served briefly at the National Defense University before becoming Principal at Bishop O’Connell in 2008 and President (Head of School) in 2013.

In addition to outstanding leadership in the effort to promote the integration of the school’s Catholic identity in all areas of student life, Dr. Vorbach has achieved significant milestones in enrollment, philanthropic support, capital improvement, curricular development and inclusive education at Bishop O’Connell. Bishop Burbidge observed, “The ministry of teaching the faith is one of my greatest responsibilities as a diocesan bishop. Dr. Vorbach is a successful school administrator, a highly respected leader, and most importantly a devout Catholic gentleman who will assist me in this ministry by helping to lead our schools with great skill and an authentic witness to our faith.”

Upon accepting this appointment, Dr. Vorbach stated: “This opportunity is an honor, and I am truly humbled to have been appointed to this critical role in the Diocese of Arlington, in which I will assist in Bishop Burbidge’s teaching ministry and administration of our Catholic schools. I look forward to collaborating with colleagues in the Office of Catholic Schools to promote Catholic education and supporting the parents who entrust their children to our schools. Over the past 11 years, I have personally witnessed the great zeal for the mission of Catholic education expressed by countless people in this Diocese, and from that, I know the potential that lies ahead in what we, as the Body of Christ, can accomplish.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019