Catholic school officials and educators in the Archdiocese of Washington praised Cardinal Wilton Gregory for his commitment to Catholic education and his awareness that such an education is a powerful tool for evangelization.

In the 20 months since he was named archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Gregory “has made it clear that Catholic education is a priority, especially in bringing people to the faith,” said Larry Savoy, president of Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington, which is sponsored by the archdiocese. “He has come to Carroll several times to show his compassion and care for our students.”

Savoy said that Cardinal Gregory’s “dedication and commitment to Catholic education has been second to none” and it “comes from his lived experience.”

Cardinal Gregory was a sixth grader attending St. Carthage School in Chicago in 1958 when he was inspired by the example of the parish priests and the Adrian Dominican sisters there to become Catholic. It was also as a young Catholic school student that the future cardinal decided on a priestly vocation.

In March 2020, then-Archbishop Gregory cut the ribbon on and blessed the new Jim Vance Media Center at Archbishop Carroll that houses an advanced program for students studying journalism and media.

At that ceremony, he said it was at the Catholic high school that “students discover the Lord Jesus who is the Truth” and prayed that “they share that Truth through the technological advances that are available to them.”

“One of Cardinal Gregory’s missions is to continue to bring people to the faith, and he knows he has a true vehicle to accomplish that with Catholic education,” Savoy said. “We are definitely excited about his ‘promotion.’”

Assisting Archbishop Wilton Gregory as an altar server at a Black History Month Mass in February 2020 at Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington, D.C., Ihuaku Joseph, a member of Carroll’s class of 2020, was a leader in the school’s peer ministry program, which organizes religious activities at the school. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

On April 5, 2019 – one day after Pope Francis announced that then-Archbishop Gregory of Atlanta would be the new archbishop of Washington – the future cardinal visited his new archdiocese. Among the stops he made that day was St. Anthony Catholic School in Northeast Washington, D.C.

“On his first day in Washington, he visited St. Anthony School. What an honor it was that he chose to visit us,” said Vincent Spadoni, president of the archdiocese’s Consortium of Catholic Academies, of which St. Anthony is a part. “It said to us that Catholic education is going to be a priority to him.”

Spadoni noted that St. Anthony’s “is kind of like his St. Carthage School that he grew up in in Chicago.”

“Many of our students are not Catholic, but they are in an environment where the Gospel is preached and lived out, and our goal is for children to see the faith in a way that makes them want to live it out,” Spadoni said. “I have heard him (Cardinal Gregory) say that who he is today is rooted in his upbringing in Catholic schools. He has a profound respect for Catholic schools and a love for Catholic education because he knows it can be so life-changing.”

Then-Archbishop Wilton Gregory visits with students in a classroom at St. Anthony Catholic School in Washington, D.C., on April 5, 2019 – the day that Pope Francis named him as the new archbishop of Washington. (Archdiocese of Washington photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann)

In addition to St. Anthony, the Consortium of Catholic Academies includes Sacred Heart School, St. Francis Xavier Academy and St. Thomas More Catholic Academy, all in Washington, D.C. As archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Gregory serves on the board of the consortium.

Since arriving in Washington, Cardinal Gregory has visited every school in the consortium. He has also visited many other schools throughout the archdiocese.

“His presence signals his tremendous support and affection for the consortium, and shows how much he will work to secure a great future for us,” Spadoni said. “We are excited to work closely with him. He seems to have a real, real genuine love for our schools.”

Spadoni said that when Cardinal Gregory visits a school, “his presence is like ‘wow!’”

“He is so disarming, and you can see his great love for children and his interest in what he has to say to them,” Spadoni said. “To have someone like the cardinal – who looks like our kids and grew up like our kids – is pretty powerful. Our children are the future Cardinal Wilton Gregorys.”

Spadoni added that Cardinal Gregory’s elevation to the College of Cardinals “is a great benefit, and we all will reap the reward of that because the cardinal realizes the future of the Catholic Church is in the Catholic schools.”

Students at Mother Catherine Academy in Mechanicsville, Maryland, bring offertory gifts to then-Archbishop Wilton Gregory during a Jan. 28, 2020 Catholic Schools Week Mass at the Southern Maryland School. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

Kelly Branaman, whom Cardinal Gregory named in August to be the Secretary for Catholic Schools and Superintendent of Schools for the Archdiocese of Washington, also pointed that the cardinal enjoys meeting with Catholic school students.

“I’ve enjoyed school visits with him. He is very much at home being in our schools and having children present or meet and speak with him,” Branaman said. “He is a natural educator, and it’s been delightful for me to see the joy he has when he is in our schools.”

 She added that “since his arrival here, he has made schools a priority by being present. He has made children a priority in the archdiocese.”

 Branaman praised Cardinal Gregory for his interest and support as Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Washington were determining the best way to reopen in the fall in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“He was apprised at every point of our opening process for our schools,” she said. “It was a priority for him that schools be open for those who wanted to be there for the formation and education and experience of being part of a Catholic school community.”

 Converting to the Catholic faith is an experience Branaman shares with Cardinal Gregory. “I find inspiration in his (Cardinal Gregory’s) own story of conversion,” she said. “When I met him, it was extraordinarily personal to me that he was also a convert, and we were able to discuss our shared experience of being drawn to the faith at different times in our lives.”

 “I’ve witnessed him when he is in a school that has a higher number of children who may not be Catholic, sharing his own story. It is a very powerful thing,” she said. “He is always advocating on our behalf and articulating the needs of our Catholic schools.”

 In an address earlier this fall to the National Catholic Educational Association’s annual Catholic Leadership Conference, then-Archbishop Gregory called Catholic schools a “privileged environment for the formation of the whole child (that) was never meant to be one for only the privileged.”

 Cardinal Gregory said that Catholic schools “help not only to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ and to catechize our children, but we are also entrusted to help them form their conscience and morality in light of the teachings of the Church.”

 In that address, he called on Catholic schools to “to give (students) the tools to develop their consciences, to grow in compassion and to see with the eyes of faith.”

Then-Archbishop Gregory is greeted by a pre-kindergarten student at Holy Cross School in Garrett Park during a September 2019 visit to the school. (Archdiocese of Washington photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann)