Igniting students’ hearts to consider vocations
By Victoria R. LaFave
Holy Spirit School’s slogan, “Inspiring Minds, Igniting Hearts,” speaks volumes about the school’s mission: Educating students goes beyond books and classroom lessons. This school ignites the hearts of its students by helping them discern God’s true purpose for their lives.
The Annandale, Virginia, school is the largest ministry of Holy Spirit Parish, and the school’s bond with the parish is one of its greatest strengths. “We are but one ministry of the parish. We feed off the dedication of the parish,” Holy Spirit School principal Maureen Ashby said.
According to Ashby, the school’s current pastor, Fr. John O’Donohue, has been instrumental in encouraging vocations among students.
“Father O’Donohue is without a doubt one of the main reasons that vocations are alive and well at Holy Spirit. He is an active presence in the school on a daily basis and knows the children well. I often tell prospective families that he is a true blessing to the school, as the children are able to daily see and interact with this person who is living this beautiful vocation but is also a ‘regular’ person who enjoys laughing, joking, and running around with the students (literally!).”
The school is also fortunate to regularly have the presence of two parochial vicars and a deacon in the classrooms. “These men freely give their time to assist with teaching the Catholic faith in the classrooms,” Ashby said. “Lastly, we have a Franciscan Sister of the Eucharist with us. Sr. Anna Rose is the school’s bookkeeper, but she spends just about an equal amount of time in the classrooms and in various activities with the students.”
Students have beautiful examples of their parents and their teachers living out their chosen vocations, as well. “Students learn that there is an amazing fulfillment you have when you listen to what God is calling you to do,” Ashby said. “Our staff constantly reminds children that they have to be open to what God is calling them to do.” Students at Holy Spirit daily see the vocations of the priesthood, religious life, married life, and single life being lived to the fullest.
Holy Spirit School also has the privilege in the Diocese of Arlington to host the Eighth Grade Vocations Mass.
“This year’s Mass program was expanded to include testimonials prior to Mass and then an opportunity for fellowship afterward, when some 1,300 eighth graders from across the diocese had lunch at the school,” Ashby noted. “It was tremendous how many clergy and religious sisters were present at the event, as well.”
Prayer permeates the daily routine at the school. The school staff and students pray the Angelus each Friday of the school year, with the special intention of vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life. They begin by praying for more vocations around the world, then narrow the focus to the Diocese of Arlington, and then to Holy Spirit Parish.
In addition to attending a weekly school Mass, students have regular opportunities to go to Confession and to participate in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Each classroom has a patron saint with an icon hanging outside of the room, so that all who enter know of the special devotion of the teacher and class.
“We are privileged to have a first-class relic of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton [patron saint of Catholic schools] in the school’s chapel,” Ashby said. “I have a special devotion to Mother Seton and try to convey to the students the importance of her as a model of faith in my own life.”
The school also annually celebrates National Vocations Awareness Week. During this week, the religion classes are dedicated to lessons about vocations, and students are given prayer cards from the Diocese of Arlington Office of Vocations to pray together for vocations.
“The Diocese of Arlington’s Office of Vocations is great at providing resources in order for us to celebrate vocations at the school,” Ashby noted.
Boys in the school, beginning in the third grade, are encouraged to become active altar servers for the parish. Students also regularly serve the weekly parish Masses and those funeral Masses that take place during school days.
Throughout the school year, the students participate in both class and whole-school rosaries. Additionally, the eighth-grade students lead the school in prayer with Living Stations of the Cross on Holy Thursday.
To encourage students in their faith outside the classroom, particular classes have field trips that highlight vocations, allowing them time for personal reflection on God’s plan for each of them. For example, second-graders go to the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America soon after receiving their First Holy Communion; during this trip the students are enrolled in the Brown Scapular Confraternity.
The fifth-graders visit the Saint John Paul II National Shrine, and middle-schoolers make a pilgrimage to the National Shrine Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland, and visit the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton. The middle-school students also participate in a Lenten retreat.
In connection with service projects, various groups come to the school to speak to the students. During the past school year, the Little Sisters of the Poor visited during Catholic Schools Week and the school had a question-and-answer period where the focus was on the vocation journey of each of the sisters.
Due to the school’s close relationship with the parish, students also have the opportunity to participate in events and have memberships in groups that provide opportunities to advocate for causes that are important to the Catholic faith. This allows them time to reflect on God’s call to them.
The eighth-grade class participates in the annual March for Life, but all students and their families are encouraged to attend. Holy Spirit School also has two after-school groups for seventh- and eighth-graders to help them with issues they are dealing with as preteens and teens. These groups provide time for the students to deepen their spirituality as a way of helping them to accept God’s call to a vocation.
All students, regardless of grade level, are invited to participate in Militia Immaculata, in which students pray the rosary and enjoy time for fellowship. During the summer, the parish sponsors a Boot Camp for Aspiring Saints that incorporates spiritual and corporal works of mercy and visits with various religious who often include their personal discernment journey.
By imbuing the Catholic faith into the students’ school days, the staff at Holy Spirit School teaches students by example about all vocations so that students can find their calling, whether it be to the priesthood, religious life, marriage, or other vocation.
“Each member of the faculty takes to heart their mission to teach children to listen to God’s call for them,” Ashby stressed. “We use many different methods and ways to reach our students and assist them on their own personal vocation journey.”
Holy Spirit School, which at press time educated 445 students, is a prekindergarten- through-eighth-grade school in the Diocese of Arlington.
Phone: (703) 978-7117
Fax: (703) 978-7438
Address: 8800 Braddock Rd., Annandale, VA 22003
Victoria R. LaFave writes for Today’s Catholic Teacher and for Holy Name Catholic School in Escanaba, Michigan. She has had several of her stories published in Chicken Soup for the Soul books.
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