When my parents were school-aged children, my grandparents on both sides of my family owned small businesses. I have my brother to thank for the hobby of searching through old newspapers for old ads for Branaman Cafeteria and Sciarra Cleaners in Seymour, Indiana. 

I recently came across a back-to-school ad for my grandfather’s dry cleaning business from Aug. 26, 1959 that read: “Back to School … Back to Business (Everybody is getting ready for fall by sending their garments to Sciarra Cleaners)”

In 1959, my mother would have been preparing for her eighth-grade year with Sister Eugenia at Saint Ambrose Catholic School. I asked my mother a few weeks ago what she would have been anticipating at the start of the school year. 

Reminiscing, she shared that she would have been excited to see friends back at school and finally being in the top grade in the school. She was equally cautious of the responsibility now being in Sister Eugenia’s homeroom. Sister Eugenia had a long-standing reputation of preparing eighth graders for high school with rigor and very high expectations. 

My mother and I had a good laugh. To her, as a 13-year-old girl, Sister Eugenia made her nervous. To me, as the newly appointed Secretary for Catholic Schools for the Archdiocese of Washington, stories of Sister Eugenia made me smile.

As we begin this school year, I believe many parents, students, educators (and even one new Secretary for Catholic Schools) ponders nightly on what “back to business” truly means for us, especially as we return to school in the midst of a pandemic. Procedures and routines may feel very different to students and teachers this school year, regardless of the type of learning models at school. 

Of one thing I am certain – the traditions, practices and expectations Catholic schools are known for remain the same. Catholic school leaders and educators hold themselves to very high standards to ensure children entrusted to their care are engaged in meaningful and active faith formation and rigorous academic programs that mark who we are as excellent Catholic schools.  

I draw inspiration from principals on a daily basis, especially with the incredible amount of preparation and planning that has gone into the reopening of our schools. A few weeks ago in a meeting, when we gave ourselves an opportunity to reflect, I asked our school leaders what would be the same when school begins, amid all the challenges of reopening. I think you will find inspiration in their words also: 

  • Our teachers and students will bring joy into the new school year.
  • Our students will be a good reminder of why all the work of reopening is worth it.
  • I want the first day of school to feel like we never left.
  • Our mission centers all that we do. 
  • Teacher commitment is unwavering in building faith communities of scholars.
  • We will continue to seek God in all things. 
  • Trust in God to lead us through a successful year.
  • Our focus on the mission, care and love for our students. 

Archdiocese of Washington Catholic schools have launched into a new school year. I could not be more excited for our students nor more proud of our educators. I have faith it will be a year of great promise and potential for all of us. New friendships will be formed, lessons will be learned, memories will be made, and minds, hearts and bodies will grow. 

I pray each of the members of our school communities find comfort in things that feel familiar to them as we return “back to school … and back to business.” May God bless each of our students, families, our faculty and staff and keep us safe, as we move into the 2020-2021 school year.

(Kelly Branaman is secretary for Catholic Schools and superintendent of Schools for the Archdiocese of Washington.)