Cardinal Donald Wuerl and Marco Clark, the president and CEO of Bishop McNamara High School, cut the ribbon during the Sept. 14 dedication and ribbon cutting ceremony for the new Andy Mona ’82 Student Center.
CS PHOTOS BY JACLYN LIPPELMANN Cardinal Donald Wuerl and Marco Clark, the president and CEO of Bishop McNamara High School, cut the ribbon during the Sept. 14 dedication and ribbon cutting ceremony for the new Andy Mona ’82 Student Center.
Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl dedicated and blessed the new Andy Mona ’82 Student Center at Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville on Sept. 14, which is named after a 1982 graduate of the school who died at age 27 after a long struggle with melanoma.

Through the financial contributions of Andy Mona’s father, Vincent “Cap” Mona; the rest of the Mona family; and many other donors, the center was built with a new cafeteria and space for students to work collaboratively. The center features large windows to let natural light in, which were designed to let the students “look out on the goodness of God’s creation,” said Marco Clark, the president and CEO of the school.

During the center’s construction, Clark learned that Andy Mona’s last words, which are now permanently displayed on a wall in the center, were, “Open the windows and throw out the screens; let Jesus in.”

After learning that, “I knew God’s hand was in this project,” said Clark. “In this project, we’ve opened windows and let God in.”

In his homily during a school Mass that he celebrated prior to the new building dedication, Cardinal Wuerl told the students the new center “really enhances and enriches the capacity of Bishop McNamara School to serve all of you.”

The cardinal said he would take the opportunity to answer a couple of important questions, such as “What does Catholic education provide, and why do people work so hard to sustain the school?”

Catholic schools offer excellent academic preparation, a “faith-based formation that allows each student to develop a moral foundation,” and a “vision for the future,” the cardinal said.

“Every student who leaves here should know in their heart: you can make a difference,” he added. “…Catholic school education is an opportunity to appreciate more deeply the possibility of a much, much better world.”

After the conclusion of the Mass, Cardinal Wuerl processed out, followed by concelebrating priests, guests, and the school’s choir, to bless the school’s new Stations of the Cross, which feature different pictures by local artists. Cardinal Wuerl noted that it was appropriate to bless them on that day, which was the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

“We can follow the story of Jesus on the way to the cross,” he added.

The procession then continued outside, where Cardinal Donald Wuerl and Marco Clark cut the ribbon in front of the new student center, joined by members of the Mona family. Once inside, Cardinal Donald Wuerl blessed and dedicated the student space.

“Today we ask God’s blessings on this, the Andy Mona Student Center. Today, we ask that those entrusted with the education of young people in this institution may teach their students how to join the discoveries of human wisdom with the truth of the Gospel, so that they might be able to keep the true faith and live it out in their lives,” said the cardinal. “Make it a center where students and teachers, imbued with the words of truth, will search of the wisdom that guides the Christian life and strive to stand by Christ, their teacher.”

Nigel Traylor, the principal of the school, said the students are “genuinely excited” to use the new space.

“This facility is a place that has become a beacon of opportunity for our students and our community,” he said, adding that it provides “a rich environment for lifelong learning” that will allow students to “learn in ways they’ve never been able to before.”

Meyah Barnes, the student council president, said she loves the spaciousness of the center, along with the new lunch menu that has better and healthier options. In particular, she said she appreciates the “freedom it gives to the student body who no longer has to search for a place to just rest after a long and stressful day.”

Maryland State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr. was among the guests at the dedication, and he expressed his support for the project and his gratitude to Cap Mona, who has supported many charitable projects in the area.

“We are very fortunate to have him and his family in this area, because they have done so much,” he said.

Heather Gossart, the school’s capital campaign steering committee co-chair, said what Andy Mona did not have time to do during his short lifetime, “his family has brought to fruition today.”

The electric work was done by the Mona family business, Mona Electric, and the superintendent was Andy Mona’s son, Andy Mona II. He was just two years old when his father died.

“I didn’t get to know (my father)… I didn’t get to give him a high five, give him a handshake, see him work, hear his jokes…but through this student center, the building of this student center, I feel like I have gotten to know him better in the last 12 months than I have in the last 26 years,” said Andy Mona II, who was there with his wife and two children.

On one of the walls of the student center, there are photos of his dad, along with some writing about his life and information about how to prevent melanoma. While he was at Bishop McNamara, Andy Mona was a member of the school’s 1981 Metro Conference championship football team. On one of the plaques, it says he had “a zest for life,” and his son said he could “feel it from what I’ve heard.”

“One of my ultimate goals in life is to keep that zest for life in everything that I do and in everything that my family does,” said Mona.