Deacon Bert L'Homme, the archdiocesan superintendent for Catholic schools (far left) and Washington Auxiliary Bishop Barry Knestout (far right) present Distinguished Pastor of the Year Awards to Franciscan Father Mike Johnson (second from left), pastor of St. Camillus Parish in Silver Spring, and Father John Dillon (second from right), pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Derwood and the former pastor of St. Mark Parish in Hyattsville.
Deacon Bert L'Homme, the archdiocesan superintendent for Catholic schools (far left) and Washington Auxiliary Bishop Barry Knestout (far right) present Distinguished Pastor of the Year Awards to Franciscan Father Mike Johnson (second from left), pastor of St. Camillus Parish in Silver Spring, and Father John Dillon (second from right), pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Derwood and the former pastor of St. Mark Parish in Hyattsville.
Father John Dillon, the former pastor of St. Mark Parish in Hyattsville, and Franciscan Father Mike Johnson, pastor of St. Camillus Church in Silver Spring, were recently honored with Distinguished Pastor of the Year Awards from the Archdiocese of Washington.

The awards were presented by Washington Auxiliary Bishop Barry Knestout during a Jan. 29 Catholic Schools Week Mass at St. Francis International School in Silver Spring.

Deacon Bert L'Homme, the archdiocesan superintendent for Catholic schools, also assisted at the Mass and award presentation, which was attended by the entire student body of the school.

"They were selected because they both took some courageous steps as pastors," said Toby Harkleroad, principal and chief administrator of St. Francis International School in Silver Spring. "The award is a celebration of them as pastors in their commitment to our school."

Father Dillon, who was named pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Derwood last summer, and Father Johnson decided their respective parishes - St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in Hyattsville and St. Camillus Parish in Silver Spring - should join together in 2010 to establish St. Francis International School.

"Here are two pastors looking beyond what was under their care and trying to find new solutions through collaboration. The two of them took some very bold steps," Harkleroad said of the pastors' decisions - after their own parish schools closed - to form the new school with support from both parishes. "They showed flexibility to think outside of the box because they were committed to trying to keep Catholic education going, especially for poor, middle class, working folks."

When the school opened, it was jointly sponsored by the two parishes. In the four years since then, Our Lady of Vietnam Parish in Silver Spring and St. Catherine Labouré Parish in Wheaton, have joined as sponsors of the school.

St. Francis International School serves about 480 students from more than 30 countries, and offers an innovative global learning curriculum.

The National Catholic Educational Association encourages dioceses across the country to nominate and celebrate a "Distinguished Pastor of the Year." Father Dillon and Father Johnson, were also the Archdiocese of Washington's official nominees for the NCEA's national distinguished pastor of the year award.

Harkleroad said that while the usual process is to nominate just one pastor, "it was really important to us to nominate both pastors." He added that parents, school staff and parish and community members wrote letters as part of the nomination process.

"You wouldn't have St. Francis (International School) if you didn't have both pastors performing their unique roles. It would be impossible without both of them,"hesaid.

The awards were presented during Catholic Schools Week, Harkleroad said, because, "each of the days of the week, we honored parents, teachers, students and we thought it would be a wonderful experience to honor our pastors."

Harkleroad said the school wanted to honor Father Dillon and Father Johnson for "the distinctive gifts they bring to their ministries, such as spiritual ministry, pastor involvement in Catholic education, and their support of school leadership, especially their dedication to serving the children and families of St. Francis International School."