Principals, teachers and staff of Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Washington gathered at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on Aug. 28 to mark the beginning of the 2017-18 school year with a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, along with Auxiliary Bishop Mario Dorsonville and priests from throughout the archdiocese.

Cardinal Wuerl noted that through God’s providence, the Mass was held on the feast day of St. Augustine, who he said set a “high water mark for all of us as we try to follow in that calling to minister as teachers of the faith.”

In his homily, Cardinal Wuerl said St. Augustine lived during “a time when the old order was disappearing” and the cultural structures that people relied up on to guide them were also fading away. He compared this time of history to what is taking place today, noting that secularism is washing away the sense of right and wrong that society used to share.

“We can take great consolation from knowing the message of St. Augustine continued to prevail,” said the cardinal, adding that even amidst all the cultural changes, “disciples of Christ continued to be able to form a community of believers.” 

With this context in mind, Cardinal Wuerl reflected on how members of the Church, and in particular Catholic school educators, could continue to be missionary disciples and evangelizers, sharing their faith in their everyday lives.

“Everyone we encounter in our parishes, in our schools…we strengthen in them – their conviction and ours – that Jesus is with us, and that is why Catholic education is so important,” said Cardinal Wuerl.

The cardinal said he hoped that all students in the archdiocese could experience a sense of renewal, refreshment and purpose in Catholic education.

“Jesus Christ is the reason for our schools, is the purpose for all our efforts, and is the unseen teacher in every classroom,” he added.

At the conclusion of his homily, Cardinal Wuerl invited the teachers gathered there to recommit themselves to this task of being missionary disciples and Catholic educators.

After Communion, Bill Ryan, the superintendent of Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Washington, greeted the teachers and said “joy” was the word he felt best captured the theme of the year.

“I witness joy in every single one of our schools and every one of our students,” said Ryan, who later encouraged the teachers to “be dynamic and bold in spreading the joy of the Gospel.”

He then joined Cardinal Wuerl in recognizing Catholic schools and educators who were celebrating milestone anniversaries in education.

Among the teachers gathered for the Mass was Darhlene Banks, who said she is looking forward to “being able to teach from the perspective of implementing Jesus in the curriculum” during her first year as a Catholic school educator after being a public school teacher. This school year, she will be teaching fifth grade at Holy Family School in Hillcrest Heights.

“Having this Mass really did reduce my anxiety,” she said. “It made me focus on the principle and purpose of education with the principles of Jesus Christ.”