In the long and exciting biography of Pope St. John Paul II, the first 18…
Marking 10 years of making disciples at John Paul the Great
Positive. Family. Joy.
These three words sum up the sentiment shared by teachers, students and parents to describe the experience of Saint John Paul the Great Catholic High School in the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia. After 10 years of educating young people, it is clear that this high school is something quite unique.
But what makes it so special?
|Find Out More|
Go to the website:
Perhaps it is the Dominican spirituality that lies at the heart of the mission. Perhaps it is the four-year bioethics curriculum that teaches the “why” behind some of Church’s most difficult teachings. Perhaps it is the house system that ensures all students find a place to belong.
These factors play an important role in making the school what it is. However, the true secret of the school’s success can be found engraved on a statue of the school’s namesake at the entrance: “Allow me, dear young people, to consign this hope of mine to you … God is entrusting to you the task, at once difficult and uplifting, of working with him in the building of the civilization of love.”
This civilization of love exists at Saint John Paul the Great High School because the school strives to keep Christ at the center.
Dominican Sister Mary Jordan Hoover, founding principal, believes that “the Holy Spirit is involved and working at Saint John Paul the Great to keep its mission moving toward Christ.” After the first few graduations, Sister Hoover noticed that the alumni were staying involved with their faith in college.
“They were going out to be disciples of Christ, and that’s what we had set out to do,” Sister Hoover reflected.
Dominican Sister Mary Veronica Keller replaced Sister Hoover as principal in the summer of 2016, and she also points to Christ when explaining the school’s success. The faculty and staff are not only concerned about teaching their various subjects. They also want to help the young people they serve be molded by Christ.
“We worship together. We bring everything to Jesus,” Sister Keller said. “The source of our unity is Jesus.”
Former Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde was instrumental in creating the vision for Saint John Paul the Great, and from the beginning he wanted the Dominican sisters to play a key role at the school.
According to Sister Hoover, Bishop Loverde saw a great need in the culture for people to understand the implications of scientific discovery as it affected the human person.
The bioethics curriculum was developed to meet that need.
“We don’t want the students to just know that ‘this is right’ and ‘this is wrong.’ We want them to understand why,” said Sister Terese Auer, who authored the bioethics curriculum.
Sister Auer pulled from her experience teaching college-level philosophy to create the course. She remains impressed by how well the high school students respond to difficult philosophical concepts.
Students at Saint John Paul the Great take a semester of bioethics each year. The first two years of the curriculum focus solely on philosophy. The second two years dive into the sciences by focusing on life issues such as contraception, abortion and euthanasia.
“We don’t use the Bible or Church teaching,” Sister Auer explained. “We use human reason and natural law to come to truth.”
This basis is necessary if the students are going to first understand the Church’s teachings for themselves and then be able to share those truths with others who may not be Catholic.
As juniors and seniors, the students learn how to argue both sides of an issue, which allows them to empathize with the other point of view without losing their own.
Bob and Julie Stanton have sent three of their six children to Saint John Paul the Great High School. They shared a story of how their son, Sebastian, attended Virginia Boys’ State summer camp and was able to argue the Church’s teachings against abortion with the other campers.
“He evangelized in a scientific way,” Julie Standton explained. Although some of his fellow campers were atheists, they left the discussion agreeing with Sebastian.
In addition to the bioethics curriculum, the Stanton family has appreciated the house system, another unique aspect of the school.
When students first come to Saint John Paul the Great, they are placed in one of eight houses. Each house is made up of nearly 100 students from all four grades, which allows students to meet people they might not interact with otherwise.
“It’s a little family inside the bigger family,” said Julie. The school keeps siblings in the same house, and both Julie and Bob enjoy hearing their children share house stories around the dinner table.
Sister Ann Dominic Mahowald serves as director of the house system and said that this program sprung from a “creative docility” to the Holy Spirit. As the number of students continued to grow, the school leadership wanted to ensure that every student felt a sense of belonging. “We didn’t want anyone to get lost,” she explained.
Incoming senior Juan Pablo Chaves met one of his closest friends through the house system.
“We only recently realized that we never had any classes together,” he said. “We are friends because of the house system.”
As Chaves prepares for his final year, he feels lucky to be at Saint John Paul the Great.
“I’ve gone there every day for the past three years,” he reflected. “You spend that much time around anything, and it will have a huge impact on you.”
Chaves is also grateful that his school has made a positive impact on his life.
“The school allows people to really grow and be happy,” he said. “It’s all about the pursuit of happiness.”
“This school has increased my hope in the Church and young people,” said Sister Keller. “Our students know their Faith, and they love the Faith.”
This school is a true tribute to Saint John Paul II, who loved young people.
“He saw them as the hope for the world,” said Sister Keller. “He was right. We’re in good hands.”
Angie E. Pometto writes from Texas.