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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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Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi: Mystical ecstasy is the elevation of the spirit to God in such a way that the person is aware of this union with God while both internal and external senses are detached from the sensible world. Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi was so generously given this special gift of God that she is called the "ecstatic saint." 
<p>She was born into a noble family in Florence in 1566. The normal course would have been for Catherine de' Pazzi to have married wealth and enjoyed comfort, but she chose to follow her own path. At nine she learned to meditate from the family confessor. She made her first Communion at the then-early age of 10 and made a vow of virginity one month later. When 16, she entered the Carmelite convent in Florence because she could receive Communion daily there. </p><p>Catherine had taken the name Mary Magdalene and had been a novice for a year when she became critically ill. Death seemed near so her superiors let her make her profession of vows from a cot in the chapel in a private ceremony. Immediately after, she fell into an ecstasy that lasted about two hours. This was repeated after Communion on the following 40 mornings. These ecstasies were rich experiences of union with God and contained marvelous insights into divine truths. </p><p>As a safeguard against deception and to preserve the revelations, her confessor asked Mary Magdalene to dictate her experiences to sister secretaries. Over the next six years, five large volumes were filled. The first three books record ecstasies from May of 1584 through Pentecost week the following year. This week was a preparation for a severe five-year trial. The fourth book records that trial and the fifth is a collection of letters concerning reform and renewal. Another book, <i>Admonitions</i>, is a collection of her sayings arising from her experiences in the formation of women religious. </p><p>The extraordinary was ordinary for this saint. She read the thoughts of others and predicted future events. During her lifetime, she appeared to several persons in distant places and cured a number of sick people. </p><p>It would be easy to dwell on the ecstasies and pretend that Mary Magdalene only had spiritual highs. This is far from true. It seems that God permitted her this special closeness to prepare her for the five years of desolation that followed when she experienced spiritual dryness. She was plunged into a state of darkness in which she saw nothing but what was horrible in herself and all around her. She had violent temptations and endured great physical suffering. She died in 1607 at 41, and was canonized in 1669.</p> American Catholic Blog Lord, keep me in your care. Guard me in my actions. Teach me to love, and help me to turn to you throughout the day. The world is filled with temptations. As I move through my day, keep me close. May those I encounter feel your loving presence. Lord, be the work of my hands and my heart. Amen.

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