As the 2020-21 school year begins for Catholic school communities throughout the Archdiocese of Washington during the COVID-19 pandemic, Archbishop Wilton Gregory encouraged students and parents, teachers and administrators to let the Holy Spirit guide them throughout this new school year.  

“That is the way that the Holy Spirit works in our world,” the archbishop said at the Archdiocese of Washington’s Opening of Schools Mass and awards ceremony that aired on YouTube on Aug. 24. “He provides directions and guidance that may not be clear to us at this present moment, but will always produce a harvest of success according to the designs of God.”

Archbishop Gregory elevates the Eucharist during the Archdiocese of Washington's Opening of Schools Mass, which was videotaped in the Crypt Church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and aired on Aug. 24 on YouTube. (Screen grab photo/Andrew Biraj)

In light of the coronavirus pandemic and various local mandates regarding gatherings, each Catholic school in the Archdiocese of Washington devised individual reopening plans that were approved by the Catholic Schools Office’s reopening task force. Schools chose from three schooling formats – distance learning with no in-person instruction, blended learning with a combination of both in-person and distance learning, and modified classroom learning with in-person classes and coronavirus prevention measures. The archdiocesan task force’s reopening report, Onward Together in Faith, was issued on Aug. 18.

“As we begin a new school year, even one unlike any we have ever known before, God’s desire for our success is still the same,” Archbishop Gregory said. “We begin this new academic year under very abnormal circumstances.”

Kelly Branaman, the Archdiocese of Washington's Secretary for Catholic Schools and Superintendent of Schools, praised Catholic school adminstrators, teachers, parents and students for their cooperative effort in maintaining their schools' “high academic standards and faith formation” during the distance learning that the Catholic schools provided when campuses were shut down this spring as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19. (Screen grab photo/Andrew Biraj)

Kelly Branaman, Secretary for Catholic Schools and the Superintendent of Schools for the Archdiocese of Washington, addressed the archdiocese’s Catholic school communities, commending the partnership between families and schools throughout the past year, especially when schools were forced to turn to distance learning in the middle of March during the shutdown of Catholic school campuses as a safety precaution against the spread of the coronavirus.

“I was so proud of all the extraordinary efforts of our teachers, administrators and families,” Branaman said. “We were able to switch over to distance learning over the course of a short weekend and maintain the same high academic standards and faith formation that sets our schools apart.”

Addressing the online congregation for the Opening of Schools Mass, Branaman added, “I stood in awe of your dedication, professionalism, creativity and resilience to maintain the excellence we are not only known for, but also the ways in which you created new and unique ways of building communities and keeping traditions of our faith and schools meaningful to your students and families in a virtual setting.”

But the coming year will not be without the same challenges and uncertainties from the spring, Branaman noted.

“When we face times of anxiety and trouble, it’s always important to remember that we are not alone,” she said. “God has sent his Holy Spirit to guide and strengthen us on the journey and has given us our colleagues, our families and our friends. Let us continue to lean on and build up those family partnerships we have been cultivating to make stronger communities, communities where everyone is welcome and has a voice within the larger community of the Archdiocese of Washington.”

Branaman also announced the theme for the 2020-21 Catholic school year -- #ADWcommUNITY, focusing on the unified community that each school contributes to within the Archdiocese of Washington.

“As we begin this new school year and a new theme for the year, we are blessed to be able to share with our students our Church’s rich, Catholic social teaching that all people are made in the image and likeness of God and should be afforded dignity and respect,” she said. “Teachers and administrators, by helping our students recognize the dignity of each person, regardless of race, ability or status, you help build the future and bring about greater unity within our community.”

Several Catholic schools were also recognized for notable anniversaries this school year. Sacred Heart School in Washington, D.C., celebrates its 115th anniversary; St. Mary’s School in Bryantown, Maryland celebrates its 105th anniversary; and St. Martin of Tours School in Gaithersburg, Maryland and St. Mary of the Assumption School in Upper Marlboro, Maryland will both celebrate their 95th anniversaries.