Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister Rachel Terry helps lead children in song during a Sept. 9 ceremony celebrating Little Flower School in Bethesda being named a Blue Ribbon School Award winner. Sister Rachel teaches music and directs the choir at the school.
Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister Rachel Terry helps lead children in song during a Sept. 9 ceremony celebrating Little Flower School in Bethesda being named a Blue Ribbon School Award winner. Sister Rachel teaches music and directs the choir at the school.
For 2008, 50 private schools were selected nationwide as Blue Ribbon winners, and Little Flower was the only school from the Archdiocese of Washington to receive the honor. Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl and the superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of Washington, Patricia Weitzel-O'Neill, were present at the ceremony.

Before the ceremony, Archbishop Wuerl shook the hands of the schoolchildren. This year, Little Flower School has an enrollment of 259 students in pre-kindergarten through the eighth grade. Msgr. Peter Vaghi, the pastor of the Church of the Little Flower, noted that everyone was gathered near the statue of the school's patroness, St. Therese of Lisieux. The saint is known as the "Little Flower." Led by a choir of children, all present then sang the "Hail Mary."

Msgr. Vaghi said the school is celebrating its 55th anniversary this year. He expressed gratitude for the Congregation of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary who have served the school since its founding. The sisters have their motherhouse in Scranton, Pa. Six of them including the principal, Sister Rosemaron Rynn, serve at Little Flower and two reside in the convent and are an integral part of the parish. Msgr. Vaghi said the Immaculate Heart of Mary sisters "continue to bring their loving and joyful way of life as a model for our children."

Sister Rosemaron spoke to the school community gathered to celebrate the award. "It is a deep, deep honor and a wonderful day indeed...that indeed Little Flower School is now considered a Blue Ribbon School," the principal said. She noted that what the school is able to do in the present is partly because of the people from the school's past. Memorials line a pathway at the school, and a late teacher is remembered with a dogwood tree. "Past and present we join together to accept this wonderful, wonderful honor," Sister Rosemaron said. The principal said two noteworthy programs at the school are the reading program and the religion program. Little Flower ranks in the top 10 percent of schools in the nation in both reading and math. About the religion program, Sister Rosemaron said, "It is the sum and substance of our existence."

A student from the school talked about how Little Flower students learn about service at a young age. They strive to follow in St. Therese's footsteps - who promised to spend her heaven doing good upon earth - by participating in a service project called "pennies from heaven," she said.

Introducing the archbishop, Sister Rosemaron said the Immaculate Heart of Mary sisters regard him as a "dear friend." Archbishop Wuerl was taught by those sisters in grade school and high school in Pittsburgh. Speaking to the group, he said he didn't just feel at home, but "like I'm back in the classroom." The archbishop also said, "This Blue Ribbon is a reminder to you of how special the school is." He gave the students a day off from school that will be determined by the principal.

Rita Curley, who teaches language arts to the seventh and eighth grades, has been at the school for 11 years. She said what makes Little Flower School different is the generosity of the parents and students that is seen whenever volunteers are needed. "[The] generosity is really a flowering of the faith," she said.

Father Mark Ivany was recently ordained to the priesthood and assigned to Little Flower Church as his first assignment. Msgr. Vaghi asked him to teach in the school, and he is teaching fifth and second grade religion there this year. Father Ivany, who was an All-American lacrosse player in college, said he is also looking forward to helping with sports at the school. Msgr. Vaghi said it is important to have a priest role model regularly teaching religion.

Anita McBride serves as the chief of staff for First Lady Laura Bush. Although her family has attended Little Flower Parish for some time, her daughter, Giovanna, recently began attending the school as a second grader this year. McBride said she wanted her daughter to attend Little Flower School because of the Catholic education offered there. "We love the families here," she said, adding that she also likes the principal and the pastor. McBride said she gave the commencement address at the school last year. "I really love the values," she said. McBride said she knew Little Flower was the right choice for her daughter, who is receiving her First Communion this year.

Hector Ferrufino, the maintenance coordinator at the school, had a daughter who attended Little Flower. Ferrufino's daughter, Johona, now goes to the Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School, cosponsored by the Archdiocese of Washington and the Salesians of Don Bosco in Takoma Park.

Sister Rosemaron said Little Flower Parish in Bethesda was one of the first parishes in the United States to be named for the saint. "She's a good role model for children," the principal said. The nun noted that the children learn about the saint's life and participate in a ceremony at her statue on her feast day.

Since the Blue Ribbon Award was established in 1982, Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Washington have received the honor 21 times. Last year, Our Lady of Victory School in Washington and St. Andrew Apostle School in Silver Spring received the award.