In celebration of Catholic Schools Week, St. Francis International School honored the individuals who helped establish the school one decade ago at a Mass with Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory at St. Camillus Church in Silver Spring, Maryland on Jan. 29. 

Born from a joint effort of leaders at St. Camillus and St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church in Hyattsville, St. Francis International School opened for its first day of school in August of 2010. Co-founders Toby Harkleroad, the founding principal; Father John Dillon, former pastor at St. Mark the Evangelist; Tom Burnford, former secretary of education for the Archdiocese of Washington; and the Catholic Schools Office of the Archdiocese of Washington were recognized for their contributions to the school that today provides a Catholic education to more than 440 students. 

Franciscan Father Chris Posch, pastor at St. Camillus, shared the story of the school’s founding, emphasizing the efforts of the community to make the dream a reality. 

“Ten years ago, leaders of St. Camillus and St. Mark’s schools and parish communities took on the challenge of finding new and creative ways to ensure that a diverse array of families would continue to have access to Catholic education for generations to come,” Father Posch said. “Both communities knew the value of having Catholic schools at the heart of their parishes thanks to decades of commitment from pioneers here in Maryland by religious sisters.”

He added that the two parishes were committed to reaching out to the children who might not have a Catholic education otherwise. 

“Both communities knew the power of Catholic schools to nurture young people, especially those facing struggles like financial challenges, immigration status, and marginalization due to social factors like race and abilities,” Father Posch said. 

Today, in addition to the two original founding parishes, the school is also sponsored by Our Lady of Vietnam Parish in Silver Spring and St. Catherine Laboure´ Parish in Wheaton.

Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory accepts offertory gifts from students during a Jan. 29 Catholic Schools Week Mass for St. Francis International School's 10th anniversary. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj) 

Archbishop Gregory congratulated St. Francis International School for “10 years of reflecting God’s goodness.”  He added his congratulations to the St. Camillus community for helping support Catholic education for 65 years, noting the community’s commitment to parochial education since 1954.

The archbishop also spoke to the strength of the school’s community, grounded in its diversity and reflecting unity and peace.  

“God likes to see the great diversity of His creation,” Archbishop Gregory said. “So I am pretty sure that God is very pleased with St. Francis International School because you reflect a wonderful diversity of God’s creative goodness. You are all most beautiful when you are put together as one family. God looks down at St. Francis International School and He says, 'That’s how I like it.'” 

Burnford, now the president of the National Catholic Educational Association, shared with the students that as he visits many of the 6,200 Catholic schools around the country, he often shares the story of St. Francis International School. 

“I do that because this school came out of the vision of two parishes, two communities working together,” he said, adding that St. Francis International School is “a vibrant Catholic school that is diverse and faith-filled, and a light to the nations.”

Students at St. Francis International School pray at the school's 10th anniversary Mass on Jan. 29 at St. Camillus Church in Silver Spring. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj) 

Not only is St. Francis International School a product of multi-parish collaboration, but Harkleroad, the chief administrator of St. Francis International, said the school also receives significant support from various government programs. 

“We are not just a partnership of two parishes… but we have made an intentional effort to be a partner with the government and the community around us,” he said. “100 percent of students receive some type of support from the state, the federal, and the county governments.” 

He added that 100 St. Francis International School students are Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today (BOOST) scholarship recipients, the largest of any Catholic school in Maryland. 

Also attending the celebratory Mass was Montgomery County Councilmember Tom Hucker, who has been supportive of St. Francis International School and St. Camillus Parish for many years. 

“I am proud to be a partner with this school,” he said. 

He presented a proclamation from the Montgomery County Council, recognizing the school’s 10 year anniversary. 

“We have many challenges in front of us, but I know with the great work being done at St. Francis, your commitment to raising the next generation of leaders in this commitment of your commitment to raising adults who live for others… we’ll be able to address those challenges together,” Hucker said.