Class of 2020, stories of hope
St. Anselm’s graduate says school ‘shaped me into the man I am today’
May 29, 2020
As John Paul “JP” Libanati concludes his four years at St. Anselm’s Abbey School in Washington, D.C., he said he is grateful that the education he received at the Benedictine-sponsored school “perfectly shaped me into the man I am today.”
“I am particularly indebted to my religion teachers who refused to omit or water down any of the Church’s teachings,” he said, adding that their “zealous attitude towards teaching… inspired me to develop a burning interest in Catholicism and the wealth of knowledge and wisdom present in its philosophical and theological tradition”
The son of Laura and Cristian Libanati and a member of St. Bernadette Parish in Silver Spring, Maryland, Libanati graduates with a 4.5 weighted grade point average. His brother Michael graduated from St. Anselm’s three years ago and is a junior at the University of Chicago. His younger brother Philip is a seventh-grader at the school.
Calling his Catholic faith “my foundation,” Libanati said that “in my daily life, my faith informs my motive for doing most of what I do.
“From athletics to academics I try to unite all aspects of my life to my faith,” he said. “I think that throughout my experience at the Abbey, I have found that through my faith I encounter a deep and abiding peace. In times of distress, I often find myself inside the Abbey chapel seeking God’s guidance and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit to reveal to me the path I must follow. In times of joy, I sprint up the Chapel Hill to noon-day prayer with the monks to give thanks for the Lord’s blessings.”
Libanati spent the last two years as a tour guide at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. “I feel so incredibly blessed to be entrusted with the task of enhancing guests’ perception of the basilica's stunning beauty with my knowledge and description,” he said. “Ultimately, I believe that our service at the basilica is a service of presence. We are there to show all of our visitors from all around the world, whether Catholic or not, that our faith is alive and well.”
Libanati also participated for the past two years on St. Anselm’s Appalachian Service Project, building handicap accessible ramps for people in need.
“I was deeply humbled by the sincerity, kindness and friendliness of all of the inhabitants of Appalachia who despite their difficult living conditions remained kind and welcoming,” he said. “Although many of the families we were serving were incredibly poor and lived in horrific living situations, they patiently bore their crosses and joyfully welcomed help from inexperienced high school boys.”
He said that through his experiences, he realized that “not only were we building them a ramp, we were also validating the fact that they were children of God with a dignity that neither poverty nor neglect could take away.”
Libanati also participated in St. Anselm’s Kairos retreats and led this year’s Kairos retreat as the student rector. “I was able to feel the workings of the Holy Spirit within me as I made the retreat myself, but as a leader I felt so blessed to be able to witness to the same workings of Christ’s grace in the lives of others,” he said.
He founded the school’s Burning Questions Club where he and classmates could debate issues related to Catholicism and Church teaching “in light of true Church dogma.”
“We would debate one controversial topic every week,” he said. “I loved all of the intense conversations that developed around the topics we covered.”
Libanati was also a long time member of St. Anselm’s Rosary Club. “It was through this club that I first fell in love with the rosary’s meditative nature,” he said.
Outside of his religious activities, Libanati participated in varsity wrestling and baseball throughout his entire high school career at St. Anselm’s. He served as captain of the wrestling team as a senior, but this year's baseball season was cut short after schools closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic,
“I have always considered myself primarily a wrestler, and I have developed a great love for the sport. I see in the athletic intensity of good wrestling a certain grace that I typically associate with dancers and gymnasts,” he said. “I am proud to say that we had a rather successful season, we won the first wrestling tournament of our league… and we placed third in the Mid-Atlantic Wrestling League.”
Each of his four years at St. Anselm’s, Libanati has participated in the school’s musical and dramatic productions and as a member of the school’s A Cappella Club. He also participated in student government. As part of his very busy high school career, he served as assistant head and later head of St. Anselm’s Big Brother Little Brother program which seeks to foster community and mentorship between juniors and sixth-grader students.
Libanati said that while “I love all my classes at St. Anselm’s and I certainly love all my teachers,” if he had to choose a favorite class it would be his senior bioethics class.
“As someone who is very passionate about bioethical issues and their immediate implications in society, I loved learning about the philosophical debates and nuanced arguments that can be made to support or refute various bioethical concerns... I found all of the material we learned to be immediately pertinent to some of my most strongly held beliefs,” he said.
As he ends his high school career self-quarantined and learning at a distance, Libanati said that “everything feels very anticlimactic.”
“I wish I could enjoy the final traditions of senior year instead of wistfully watching special dates pass by as I sit at my desk at home,” he said. “I wish that I had the face-to-face time with my teachers so that I could more easily take that step from being their student to being their acquaintance to maybe even being their friend.”
He added that “I have tried to take on an outlook of mortification and sacrifice towards these losses and as joyfully as possible offer them up to the Lord.”
In the fall, Libanati will attend Vanderbilt University in Nashville on a full tuition merit scholarship.
“I intend to double major in biomedical engineering and philosophy, but I feel like that might change later on,” he said. “Whatever my undergraduate major becomes, I hope to pursue a pre-med pre-professional track and go on to medical school. But even that plan might be subject to change, for now I will stick with this plan while I try to discern the Lord’s call.”