Students from St. Francis International School in Silver Spring join hands during the praying of the Our Father at a Feb. 1 Catholic Schools Week Mass celebrated by Cardinal Wuerl.
Students from St. Francis International School in Silver Spring join hands during the praying of the Our Father at a Feb. 1 Catholic Schools Week Mass celebrated by Cardinal Wuerl.
Catholic schools enable students to learn who God is and to learn how to share Jesus with the rest of the world, Cardinal Donald Wuerl said during a Feb. 1 Mass he celebrated for students, parents and staff of St. Francis International School in Silver Spring.

"What make a Catholic school so special? You learn about God and you know God is with you," Cardinal Wuerl said during the Catholic Schools Week Mass at St. Camillus Church. "You learn about Jesus. God sent Jesus so that we would know who Jesus is and we would know that God is with us. and He loves us."

St. Francis International School is located on the grounds of St. Camillus Church. Cardinal Wuerl was the principal celebrant of the Mass marking Catholic Schools Week, which this year is observed from Jan. 29 to Feb. 4.

"Here, you get to learn about God's love for us and Jesus's love for us," the cardinal said. "Isn't that wonderful? Isn't that a reason to be thankful?"

St. Francis International School opened its doors for the first time in August 2010 after officials at the former St. Camillus School in Silver Spring and the former St. Mark the Evangelist School in Hyattsville joined together to form the new school. Nearly 450 students, from about two years old through the eighth-grade, attend classes at the former St. Camillus School.

The school was created in January 2010, as St. Mark School officials were looking at ways to overcome declining enrollment and an operating deficit, and St. Camillus School officials were looking for ways to keep the school sustainable and affordable.

The former St. Camillus School got a facelift prior to opening. The building was newly painted and carpeted. More than half of the classrooms were refurbished, new flooring and ceilings were installed, major landscaping was completed and school offices were remodeled.

Conceived by the schools' pastors and principals, St. Francis International School was designed to offer a Catholic, standards-based education with a global perspective to reflect the diverse student population and the need for students to have new skills to become leaders in a diverse world.

"We are grateful for Cardinal's Wuerl's vision of Catholic education that gave us the freedom to envision what this school could be," said Franciscan Father Michael Johnson, pastor of St. Camillus Church and one of the concelebrants of the Mass. "We gather here to celebrate what is Catholic education, especially what it means to us here in our community."

Other concelebrants of the Mass included Father John Dillon, pastor of St. Mark Church, and Franciscan Fathers Jean Marie Kabango Lenge, Jacek Orsechowski and Eric Lopez. Deacon Bert L'Homme, the archdiocesan superintendent of schools, served as deacon at the Mass. The school is also sponsored by Our Lady of Vietnam Parish in Silver Spring.

To reflect the diversity of the student body, the Mass included music in English, Spanish, French, Latin, and Greek and prayers were offered in eight languages.

Cardinal Wuerl led students in a round of applause as a way to thank the school's teachers, principal, parents and priests "who work so hard to see this school stays strong so you get a chance every day to meet Jesus."

"Here you learn Jesus wants to be with us every day of our life, and we make our way to God with Jesus always at our side," the cardinal said.

The cardinal, well known for his staunch support of Catholic education, told the students that their studies will prepare them to take part in the New Evangelization and "to share the Good News."

"Because of your education here, you can let other people know how wonderful it is to know Jesus. By how you live, you can show everybody around you that God's love is at work in you," Cardinal Wuerl said. Tobias Harkleroad, St. Francis International School's principal, called the school "a bold plan that none of us knew at the time if it would succeed."

"Now we are a vibrant school," Harkleroad said. He offered words of thanks for Cardinal Wuerl's "presence and support" during the formation of the school, and for parents, "trusting us as partners in the education of their little ones."