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A Catholic School Resurrected View Comments
by Rachel Zawila
Opportunity is what makes a Catholic school special,” says Tobias Harkleroad, principal of Saint Francis International School in Silver Spring, Maryland. The school’s opening in August 2010 gave its nearly 450 students the opportunity to continue to learn, live, and grow in their faith, as two of its nearby schools—St. Camillus in Silver Spring and St. Mark the Evangelist in Hyattsville, Maryland—were struggling to stay open.

Under the leadership of Harkleroad; Brother Gerald Hopeck, OFM, vice principal; Father Michael Johnson, pastor of St. Camillus; and Father John Dillon, pastor of St. Mark, the schools combined to form Saint Francis International in the former St. Camillus School.

For many, the decision to close the more than 50-year-old institutions was difficult to accept. “I think very often in other situations when parishes and schools are faced with reimagining their mission and identity for today, they get too wound up in the fear of death and of losing something special, and that makes them unable to see the hope of what could be,” says Harkleroad. “What I think we represent is the need for Catholic parishes and schools to look beyond established ‘borders’ when asking how are we called to proclaim the Gospel right now. The New Evangelization is wrapped up in this challenge—how do we be a people spreading the Gospel today while respecting and drawing upon our tradition?

“Essentially, we had to embrace one of the most difficult tenets of our faith: the Resurrection is only possible after death on the cross.”

Today, Saint Francis International is brimming with life, as kindergarten through eighth-grade students learn the lessons and values of their school’s namesake.

“Francis is perfect for relating the radical call of the Gospel and Baptism with students because he was so normal and of his time before his conversion,” says Harkleroad. “He just wanted to be happy. . . . But he was faced with the harsh realities of life when his quest to be a knight wound him up in a prison and when a prolonged illness made him question his choices in life. Kids get that story, and once you can explain to them how the second part of the story—the poverty, the hard work—was all about finding real happiness, they get that part, too.”

The motto at St. Francis is corde incipite: “start with heart.” “We believe our goal as a Franciscan school is to use whatever means we can to incarnate Jesus Christ and his
Gospel in our school community so that students will feel him, love him, and follow him,” Harkleroad says.

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Monica: The circumstances of St. Monica’s life could have made her a nagging wife, a bitter daughter-in-law and a despairing parent, yet she did not give way to any of these temptations. Although she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a pagan, Patricius, who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa. Patricius had some redeeming features, but he had a violent temper and was licentious. Monica also had to bear with a cantankerous mother-in-law who lived in her home. Patricius criticized his wife because of her charity and piety, but always respected her. Monica’s prayers and example finally won her husband and mother-in-law to Christianity. Her husband died in 371, one year after his baptism. 
<p>Monica had at least three children who survived infancy. The oldest, Augustine (August 28) , is the most famous. At the time of his father’s death, Augustine was 17 and a rhetoric student in Carthage. Monica was distressed to learn that her son had accepted the Manichean heresy (all flesh is evil)  and was living an immoral life. For a while, she refused to let him eat or sleep in her house. Then one night she had a vision that assured her Augustine would return to the faith. From that time on, she stayed close to her son, praying and fasting for him. In fact, she often stayed much closer than Augustine wanted. </p><p>When he was 29, Augustine decided to go to Rome to teach rhetoric. Monica was determined to go along. One night he told his mother that he was going to the dock to say goodbye to a friend. Instead, he set sail for Rome. Monica was heartbroken when she learned of Augustine’s trick, but she still followed him. She arrived in Rome only to find that he had left for Milan. Although travel was difficult, Monica pursued him to Milan. </p><p>In Milan, Augustine came under the influence of the bishop, St. Ambrose, who also became Monica’s spiritual director. She accepted his advice in everything and had the humility to give up some practices that had become second nature to her (see Quote, below). Monica became a leader of the devout women in Milan as she had been in Tagaste. </p><p>She continued her prayers for Augustine during his years of instruction. At Easter, 387, St. Ambrose baptized Augustine and several of his friends. Soon after, his party left for Africa. Although no one else was aware of it, Monica knew her life was near the end. She told Augustine, “Son, nothing in this world now affords me delight. I do not know what there is now left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled.” She became ill shortly after and suffered severely for nine days before her death. </p><p>Almost all we know about St. Monica is in the writings of St. Augustine, especially his <i>Confessions</i>.</p> American Catholic Blog The Church really is my mother, too. She isn’t a vague maternal force for a generic collection of anonymous people. This Mother truly nurtures us—each one of us. And for those of us who are baptized Christians, the Church has actually given birth to us on a spiritual level.

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