For Catholic Schools Week, principals, teachers and parents wrote reflections about what local Catholic schools are doing to serve students and families during this time of pandemic.  This essay is by Maura Kelly Lannan, a parent at Our Lady of Mercy School in Potomac, Maryland, and a member of the Archdiocese of Washington’s Board of Education.

My family and I are grateful to be part of a Catholic school community during the pandemic because it has given us support during a time of loss as well as continuity and safety with a return to in-person learning.

My husband, our three children and I have been parishioners at Our Lady of Mercy in Potomac, Maryland, for the past 14 years. Our daughter and one of our sons were students at Our Lady of Mercy School last spring when the pandemic began. Our daughter graduated from Mercy’s eighth grade in June, after having attended the school since kindergarten. Our son is currently in the seventh grade at Mercy, where he also has been a student since kindergarten.

This is my 10th year as a parent at Our Lady of Mercy School, and I have seen many changes, but this year has been the most different because of the pandemic. Students have their temperatures checked before they leave their cars in a new morning drop-off procedure, wear masks all day, stay socially distanced, only use certain doors and sit in classrooms with windows open regardless of the temperature to increase air flow. Annual traditions such as the Christmas pageant have been reimagined and delivered virtually. Parents are not allowed in the school. 

Fourth graders at Our Lady of Mercy School show their STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) proficiency in paper engineering. (Photo courtesy of Our Lady of Mercy School)

These rules have changed many of the physical aspects of how students attend the school, but their existence is necessary to keep everyone safe, and I am glad they are in place. My husband and I feel grateful that our son can attend school in-person each day at Mercy. He is happy to see his friends, connect with his teachers and learn in school, even with the changes. Mercy pivoted quickly last spring to virtual learning, but sitting in a classroom and interacting with other students since last fall has proven invaluable to my son and has provided academic and social continuity.

We have enjoyed the strong sense of community provided by a Catholic school for the past 10 years, but never more so than this year. My family experienced great sadness and loss at the start of the pandemic when my mother passed away after a seven-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease. I was grateful to be with her when she passed away, and our Mercy community showed its love and support for us in many ways. 

We received many calls, texts, emails and cards expressing sympathy from Mercy parents and faculty, as well as Masses that were to be said in my mother’s name from the faculty and each of my children’s classes. Mercy parents also sent flowers for my mother’s wake and made charitable donations in her name. Our lives were saddened as we grieved my mother’s loss at the same time as the world around us changed daily with the pandemic, but it was very comforting to feel the love and support of the Mercy community.

My family also has seen other changes this past year. My daughter started her freshman year at Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School, her first new school experience in nine years. She attends school in-person once every three weeks with her cohort with similar safety measures in place. Even this limited opportunity to attend school in-person has helped her adjust to her new school and form friendships with other girls as they experience their freshman year in this unique environment. She has made great new friends with the hybrid school experience, but she also speaks to her friends from Mercy each day, and we are grateful for that social connection.

Our Lady of Mercy has experienced many changes unrelated to the pandemic this year with a new principal and new pastor. Even amid these transitions, Mercy remains committed to in-person learning and keeping students safe.

PreK 3 students play with bubbles during recess at Our Lady of Mercy School. (Photo courtesy of Our Lady of Mercy School)

I am very involved at Mercy, having served in many volunteer and leadership roles including three terms on the School Advisory Committee, currently as chair of its Policy and Planning Committee; a member of the past two Mercy Principal Search Committees; and a former co-president of the Mercy Parent-Teacher Organization. Through my involvement at Mercy and as a member of the Archdiocese of Washington’s Board of Education, I am well aware of the planning that was required for Mercy and other Catholic schools to open their doors. I feel confident that Mercy is doing all that it can to safely educate my son and other students and I am grateful.

This year has been a year of change but also one of extreme gratitude for me and my family for the support, continuity and safety provided by our Catholic school community.