As the community at St. John’s College High School in Washington, D.C., gathered both socially-distant and virtually for the Opening of Schools Mass on Sept. 11, Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory encouraged the students and faculty to go forth with courage, taking on risks with faith.

“Faith challenges us to risk doing the right thing,” Archbishop Gregory said in his homily. “Fear of the Lord assures us that we need not worry that God will ever withdraw his love, which the Psalmist tells us is everlasting.” The archbishop said that like a parent loves a child, God’s love for all His children “should never be in doubt.”

St. John's College High School students assisted at the Sept. 11, 2020 opening school Mass as altar servers. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

The Mass, celebrated on the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy, also commemorated the 19th anniversary of the first Opening of School Mass at St. John’s College High School, Jeffrey Mancabelli, the school’s president, remarked at the beginning of the Mass.

“During those horrific hours, we were together as one community when we received the news of the attacks of the community,” Mancabelli said. “That power of community relied on the Holy Spirit and relied on one another during those times. So as we gather today during yet another unprecedented time in modern history, we are fortunate to come together with His Excellency asking in this Mass for the Holy Spirit to be with us to guide us, to nourish us, to protect us as we journey through a new year.”

Archbishop Gregory speaks at the Sept. 11, 2020 opening school year Mass at St. John's College High School in Washington, D.C., near a banner depicting St. John Baptist de La Salle, the school's patron saint and the patron saint of teachers, and the founder of the De La Salle Christian Brothers order that sponsors the coeducational Catholic high school. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

Fear of the Lord, Archbishop Gregory said, “is the virtue that gives us the courage to act boldly in pursuing our mission in life.”

“The Lord gives each of us talents that He wants us to use with bravery and may I dare say, even with daring itself,” he said.

In the photo above, a St. John's student receives Communion during the opening school year Mass celebrated there by Archbishop Gregory on Sept. 11, 2020. In the photo below, students attending the Mass wore face masks as a safety precaution against the spread of the coronavirus. (CS photos/Andrew Biraj)

Following the Mass, Archbishop Gregory blessed a bell tower on campus that honors St. John’s class of 2020 and the sacrifices that they made during their senior year due to the COVID-19 crisis. In mid-March, Catholic school campuses across the Archdiocese of Washington closed as a safety precaution against the spread of the coronavirus, and students completed their courses that spring through distance learning.

The new bell at St. John’s College High School reflects a 300-year-old tradition of the De La Salle Christian Brothers in which the ringing of bells every half hour would call people to the prayer, “Let us remember that we are in the holy presence of God.” St. John’s College High School is sponsored by the Christian Brothers. A new tradition commenced this fall where the bell will be rung to start and end the school year. Following the blessing, Archbishop Gregory rang the bell.

“The Class of 2020’s collective presence, sacrifice and contributions will be felt on this campus forever,” Principal Chris Themistos said in a statement. “In its simplest form, a bell is a joyous and dignified monument, but for Lasallians, a bell has a much deeper significance.”

During his Sept. 11, 2020 visit to St. John's College High School in Washington, Archbishop Gregory in addition to celebrating the opening school year Mass and blessing the new bell tower there, also blessed the school's new Center for Performance and Leadership. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

In addition, Archbishop Gregory also blessed St. John’s new Center for Performance and Leadership which includes a variety of different athletic facilities and other spaces such as an Entrepreneurial Center, a lecture hall and the Cadet Corps Leadership Program complex.

St. John’s College High School began the 2020-21 school year with a virtual learning instructional model during the month of September, with weekly on-campus extra-curricular activity meetings and faculty office hours to enhance instruction.