CS PHOTOS BY JACLYN LIPPELMANN Students, faculty and staff at St. Anthony Catholic School in Washington applaud as their principal, Michael Thomasian, is surprised with the 2017 Distinguished Principal of the Year award Aug. 30.
CS PHOTOS BY JACLYN LIPPELMANN Students, faculty and staff at St. Anthony Catholic School in Washington applaud as their principal, Michael Thomasian, is surprised with the 2017 Distinguished Principal of the Year award Aug. 30.

On their second day of school, students at St. Anthony Catholic School in Washington had an extra reason to be joyful. To begin their day on Aug. 30, they filed into the church and waited quietly to surprise their principal, Michael Thomasian, who was being named the Archdiocese of Washington Principal of the Year.

When he walked into the church, the students stood up and erupted with applause as he walked down the center aisle. After the students sang “Jesus in the Morning,” and had a short reading from Scripture, Bill Ryan, the superintendent of schools for the archdiocese, presented Thomasian with the award.

Ryan told the students that in order to receive the award, their principal had to be chosen out of all the principals in the large archdiocese. He then asked them to verify whether the award’s criteria, such as being strong in his faith and a strong instructional leader, sounded like their principal. After each criterion, the students responded with a resounding, “Yes!”

“There are so many reasons why parents choose a Catholic school,” and so many reasons why their parents chose St. Anthony, said Dr. Jem Sullivan, the archdiocese’s secretary for Catholic education, who added that those reasons are all made possible by the dedicated work of the pastor, teachers, staff, and principal.

Thanking Thomasian for his service to Catholic schools, Sullivan said Catholic schools make possible “our daily walk with and friendship with Jesus.”

“It is a great honor to receive this award and to be here every day,” said Thomasian, accepting his award. “…This award and this honor is for all of you as well because we have an amazing school.”

Thomasian, a native of Boston, holds a master of arts degree in educational leadership from the University of Notre Dame and a master’s degree in teaching from Trinity University. He taught elementary and middle school for 11 years and also served as St. Anthony Catholic School’s assistant principal prior to being appointed principal in 2011. He and his wife Jessica have four children.

Father Fred Close, the pastor of St. Anthony, reflected on when he chose Thomasian to become principal, after the previous principal, Bill Eager, was leaving, and he wondered, “How do you replace a legend?”

Eager had been working with and mentoring Thomasian, who started at St. Anthony as a volunteer 18 years ago, making a stipend of $50 per month “if the budget allowed it,” said Father Close. So, Father Close listened to Eager’s advice and hired Thomasian to be principal, because to replace a legend, he was looking for someone with “legendary character,” said Father Close.

Eager, reflecting on meeting Thomasian when he first started working at St. Anthony, told the Catholic Standard about his first impressions of the then-recent college graduate.

“He was smart, he was quick, he was hardworking, and he was spiritual and faith-filled,” he said. “…As we worked together, I felt Michael certainly had leadership potential…he looked at the whole child: body, mind and spirit.”

Watching Thomasian be acknowledged for his work was “one of the happiest days of my life,” Eager said.

During his first year as principal of the school, Eager had spent four hours with each teacher individually. The school’s staff then included several Benedictine sisters. When he asked one of the sisters what she wished to remain at the school as a legacy of the Benedictine order, she told him, “Everyone is welcome.”

“I think Michael has done that for St. Anthony,” Eager said.

St. Anthony is a part of the Consortium of Catholic Academies, a network of four center-city Catholic schools that reach out to underserved communities.
As a part of this effort, the school welcomes many students who receive the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship, which provides children from low-income families in Washington with funds to attend private schools in the city.

Marguerite Conley, the executive director of the Consortium of Catholic Academies, said Thomasian is “an authentically Catholic principal who is inspired by the Holy Spirit in everything he does.”

“[The award] is so well deserved because he is an amazing educator,” Conley said, adding that his educational style “is truly Catholic; it is in his bones, in his marrow; it is authentic. He doesn’t separate the spiritual from the academic at all. It is all intertwined.”

Conley also noted the increase in the school’s enrollment in recent years, but said the “true fruits of his labor” were the numbers of students and their families each year who were returning to the Church or entering the Church after being a part of St. Anthony.

Several people noted how involved Thomasian is with the Brookland community in addition to the school. He lives in the neighborhood, helps his neighbors, and is an active member of St. Anthony Parish. 

Thomasian said he has enjoyed working together with Eager, other faculty and alumni “to make the school a stronger school for the Brookland neighborhood and for the parish.”

“As principal you get to do that,” he continued. “You get to strengthen the Catholic identity of the school. You get to make sure everything that happens under this roof follows Church teaching and really bring the kids closer to Christ.”

“I’m so joyful,” said Father Close, after the award ceremony. “I am rejoicing with Michael, I’m rejoicing with the school community, I’m rejoicing with the parish community, I’m rejoicing with all of Brookland.”