The May 10 Mass at St. Camillus Church in Silver Spring marking the First Holy Communion for 36 second graders from nearby St. Francis International School marked a milestone for them, and brought back memories for some of the school’s graduating eighth graders, who six years earlier had received First Communion there as pioneer members of the newly opened school.

“We all got in white dresses, kind of like what we had here today,” said eighth grader Patricia Visoso.

That morning, the second graders had processed into the church, with the girls wearing white dresses and many with veils, and the boys wearing white or dark suits.

Franciscan Father Chris Posch, the pastor of St. Camillus, told the children, “Nourished by the body of Christ, may we be the body of Christ.”

He encouraged them to be the hands of Jesus, serving others; the eyes of Jesus, looking at others with compassion; the ears of Jesus, listening to others attentively; the mouth of Jesus, speaking the truth; the feet of Jesus, going to places where God is calling them, and the heart of Jesus, loving others generously.

“We need you. The Church needs you. God needs you,” said the priest, who later when he gave each of them First Communion, knelt down to be at their eye level.

After Mass, six of the school’s 29 eighth graders told the Catholic Standard what they had learned there, and described their dreams for the future. St. Francis International School in Silver Spring, which opened in 2010, has 405 students in grades pre-kindergarten through eighth, and is sponsored by four parishes: St. Camillus; St. Mark the Evangelist in Hyattsville; Our Lady of Vietnam in Silver Spring; and St. Catherine Laboure in Wheaton. The parents of students were born in 52 different countries.

‘A new chapter’

Reflecting on her upcoming June 9 graduation from the eighth grade at St. Francis International School, Patricia Visoso, the class president, said, “I’m excited and happy, moving onto a new school and a new chapter.”

Visoso, who attended St. Camillus School as a first grader and then joined the new St. Francis International School as a second grader when it opened in the same building, added that she was also feeling “sad because I’ve been with my friends and classmates my whole life, and I’m going to miss them.”

Like many of her classmates, she has family roots in other countries. Her mother is from Spain, and her dad is from Mexico. “Here they make you proud of where you’re from, and your heritage,” she said, noting that during the school year, they learn how different cultures celebrate holy days and holidays, often with parents bringing in food from their native countries.

Attending her school has taught her “how to be open and not ignorant of other people’s cultures and religions,” she said, adding that learning about the cultures of other students “opens my mind.  It opens my eyes to new things I haven’t seen before.”

This fall Visoso will attend Elizabeth Seton High School in Bladensburg, and she hopes to study abroad someday and perhaps serve in the Peace Corps. At her school, she participated in the choir, band, drama club and science club, and she likes working with computers and said that she might work as an IT technician after college.

She said going to St. Francis International School “definitely strengthened my faith. I definitely know more about God and His plan for us. Since I’ve come here, I’ve learned how God wants us to treat others.”

Lessons in respecting others

McKenzie Campbell, the class valedictorian, will be attending Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville this fall. She had attended St. Mark’s School as a first grader and also joined St. Francis International School in the second grade.

Campbell, who is African-American and Baptist, said attending the school taught her “how to respect other people’s cultures… It helped me be open minded,” she said, noting how students recently participated in a Jewish Passover Seder.

At her Catholic school, she said she also learned that “God is always with you, no matter what. Even if you do wrong, he’ll accept you with open arms.”

At St. Francis, she participated in the science club, National Junior Honors Society and student government, and she hopes to graduate with honors from high school and college, and later maybe work as a professional dancer or a teacher.

‘God has a better plan’

Jamiil Torres, a member of St. Camillus Parish, has been attending St. Francis International School for the past two years. His mother is from the Dominican Republic, and his dad is African-American. This fall, Torres will attend Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park.

Regarding his dreams for the future, Torres said he hopes to be successful in high school and graduate from college and perhaps eventually to work in law enforcement. He is an altar server at his parish and plays baseball in a Montgomery County league.

“Going to this school, I’ve learned how to be more grateful for things I have, and not take things for granted,” he said. “I also learned a lot of things about my faith and other people’s faith.” Torres added that a key lesson he’s learned along the way is “God always has a better plan, and God forgives.”

Learning ‘to try new things and explore more’

Carina Costa, whose family is from Bangladesh, attended St. Camillus School in pre-kindergarten and then joined the new St. Francis International School as a second grader when it opened. The salutatorian of her class will attend Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in Olney next year, and hopes to go on to a top college and become a lawyer someday.

At St. Francis International School, she was a member of the National Junior Honors Society and participated in the science club. “I’ve learned to be open minded (here), to also try new things and explore more,” she said, echoing her classmates in saying she learned a lot going to school with students with family roots in many different countries.

Attending the Catholic school taught her “God will always be present around me and my life. He’ll always be there,” she said.

‘A sense of family’

Like Costa, eighth grader Juan Hernandez began at St. Camillus School then joined the new St. Francis International School in the second grade. Hernandez’s parents are from El Salvador, and his family attends Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in Takoma Park. This fall, he will attend DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville. He hopes to graduate with honors from college and perhaps work in the medical field or be a professional athlete someday.

At St. Francis, Hernandez was the student government president, played bass clarinet in the school band and participated in the science club, and outside school he plays soccer and volunteers at his parish as an altar server.

Hernandez said an important lesson he learned about his faith there, that was reinforced by participating in the sacrament of Confession is “God always forgives.”

“The thing I’ll miss the most, this school has a sense of family. Everybody has your back,” he said.

Connecting with other people and God

Zoe Stancil was attending St. Mark’s School in Hyattsville and like many of her classmates joined the new St. Francis International School in the second grade. Next year, she will attend St. Vincent Pallotti High School in Laurel.

“I want to do really good in high school and college and maybe become a journalist,” said Stancil, who is African-American.

Outside school, she participates in the Girl Scouts and enjoys playing tennis and volleyball. She recently took part in a cable TV show where youth learned about starting their own businesses.

Like her classmates, she said attending St. Francis International School taught her lessons about respecting others. Stancil, who is Baptist, said she also deepened her faith in God there.

“I learned about a lot of different cultures, which is important. It shows you how to connect with other people,” she said. “This school showed me how to connect with God, things you can do to get closer to God, and how to carry out God’s word.”