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At fall Mass and blessing afterward, Cardinal Gregory joins DeMatha in celebrating high school's 75th anniversary

After blessing the Heritage Hallway at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Maryland on Nov. 12, 2021 Cardinal Wilton Gregory poses with some students there. (CS photos/Andrew Biraj)

During a recent 75th anniversary Mass followed by a special blessing of the Heritage Hallway at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Maryland, Cardinal Wilton Gregory praised its students and alumni for the school’s legacy of faith, brotherhood and accomplishments in many fields.

“You are all brothers, one to the other. You all bring special gifts that make DeMatha the great school that it is,” Washington’s archbishop said in his homily at the Nov. 12, 2021 Mass at DeMatha’s Lt. (SEAL) Brendan Looney ’99 Convocation Center.

Before the Mass, Trinitarian Father James Day, the school’s president, said that the convocation center on that morning would become “our cathedral now” and a place of prayer. The approximately 800 young men attending the school filled the bleachers and floor of the Morgan and Kathy Wootten Gymnasium, with juniors and seniors wearing maroon jackets and freshman and sophomores wearing navy blue jackets. All wore face masks in accord with COVID-19 safety guidelines.

A student carrying the red and blue Trinitarian cross helps lead the opening procession at a Nov. 12, 2021 Mass at DeMatha Catholic High School celebrated by Washington Cardinal Wilton Gregory. (CS photos/Andrew Biraj)

The Mass opened with a procession led by a student carrying the red and blue Trinitarian cross, reflecting the school’s colors and symbolizing the religious order that founded DeMatha in 1946 and continues to sponsor the school. Students in its chorus, the Voices of DeMatha, led the singing at the Mass.

Members of the Voices of DeMatha choral group lead the singing at a Nov. 12, 2021 Mass at DeMatha Catholic High School celebrating the Hyattsville school’s 75th anniversary. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

“This morning, I’m doing something of great joy. I’m praying with and for the DeMatha family,” the cardinal said.

The gymnasium’s walls, lined with championship banners from many different sports, formed a backdrop for the liturgy.

Cardinal Gregory, marking his first visit to DeMatha with students and faculty members present, had earlier attended an archdiocesan teachers’ gathering there. He said that long before becoming the archbishop of Washington in 2019, he had heard about the school’s famous athletic program, its successful coaches and athletes, but he said that in visiting the school, he got to experience “your splendid music ministry. The Voices of DeMatha are simply terrific.” He praised the school’s fine arts program, noting how that reflects the way DeMatha “encourages young men to develop talents and gifts.”

The cardinal also noted that when DeMatha began 75 years ago with 18 students, many of them were interested in the priesthood, and he expressed hope that some of today’s students might think about becoming priests. Several current priests of The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington are graduates of the school.

Cardinal Wilton Gregory gives his homily at a Nov. 12, 2021 Mass at DeMatha Catholic High School celebrating the Hyattsville school’s 75th anniversary. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

Cardinal Gregory said that day’s reading from the letter to the Ephesians was appropriate for the Mass at DeMatha, because St. Paul was writing to a diverse faith community with a variety of gifts in the port city of Ephesus.

“At DeMatha today, many gifts are welcome, many backgrounds are welcome. You represent many different cultures. Some of you speak languages other than English. However, you speak one language perfectly, in your love for one another,” the cardinal said.

Washington’s archbishop joked that he knows there is a great rivalry among local Catholic high school sports teams, and he hears all about it when “DeMatha is on top” from the archdiocesan chancellor, Terry Farrell, a 1983 graduate of the school. He told the students that whether they excel in sports, in music or in other fields, that it is important always to remember that “every gift we have comes from the one Father who fashioned all of us.”

“As you look at the great heritage that is DeMatha, now 75 years old… (and at) all the wonderful things the school has accomplished in its past and hopefully will accomplish in its future, all come as gifts from the one God who desires nothing more than you being one family of faith,” the cardinal said.

DeMatha students offer first-bumps to each other during the sign of peace at a Nov. 12, 2021 Mass marking the school’s 75th anniversary. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

After Communion, DeMatha’s principal Daniel McMahon reflected on the religious order that sponsors the school, noting that their official name – the Order of the Most Holy Trinity and of the Captives – reflects how they value human freedom and justice, and the importance of finding God in relationships with others, since the Trinity includes the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The Trinitarians’ website notes how the order was founded in 1198 to ransom Christian captives during the Crusades, and how the religious community through its ministries today emphasizes works of mercy and redemption, with a special concern for those who suffer persecution because of their faith in Christ.

Cardinal Gregory was presented with a DeMatha hat and vest jacket, and the students and staff there gave him a long standing ovation as he wore the hat and smiled.

Washington Cardinal Wilton Gregory wears a DeMatha cap and holds a school vest jacket presented to him at the end of a Nov. 12 Mass marking the 75th anniversary of the all-boys’ Catholic high school in Hyattsville, Maryland. In the photo below, DeMatha students applaud the cardinal at the Mass. (CS photos/Andrew Biraj)

The DeMatha community then put their hands over their hearts and sang the school’s Alma Mater, with its refrain that ends with the words, “DeMatha today! DeMatha forever!”

Students at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville hold their hands over their hearts as they sing the school’s Alma Mater at a Nov. 12, 2021 Mass celebrated by Cardinal Gregory. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

After the Mass, Cardinal Gregory walked over to DeMatha Catholic High School’s main building and blessed the school’s Heritage Hallway, which celebrates the school’s founding educators, the Trinitarian order and its alumni.

The hallway includes plaques honoring five pivotal figures in DeMatha’s history, for whom houses in the school are named, and students from their freshman year on are assigned to a particular house, like the house system of Hogwarts School in the Harry Potter books and movies. Students join with their peers in competing in various team-building exercises, and academic and extra-curricular achievements and service and fundraising activities during the school year are tallied to gain honors for their house, including the DeMatha House Cup.

Plaques in the Heritage Hallway at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville honor five pivotal figures in DeMatha’s history. Houses at the school are named in their honor. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

The five houses at DeMatha include:

  • Amico House, named for Joseph “Lou Amico,” who served as a teacher, athletic director and superior of the St. John de Matha Monastery, and also as a business manager, vice principal and principal of the school, and was instrumental in hiring teachers and coaches who became the foundation of DeMatha’s lay faculty.
  • Donovan House, named for Trinitarian Father Paul Donovan, a founder of DeMatha Catholic High School in 1946 who made the decision on its name and served as its first principal from 1949 to 1954 and again from 1959 to 1965 and was also an English teacher and dean there.
  • Moylan House, named for John Moylan, who became DeMatha’s principal in 1968 and served in that role until retiring in 2000 and was the first lay principal of a Catholic high school in the Archdiocese of Washington. Moylan led the school as it expanded its facilities and academic program and when DeMatha received National Blue Ribbon honors in 1984 and 1991. He was hired by DeMatha in 1956 as a counselor and French teacher.
  • Offutt House, named for Dr. Charles “Buck” Offutt who joined DeMatha in 1956 and taught English there until his retirement in 2007. He was also a highly respected football coach for DeMatha, and in 2006 the National Catholic Educational Association honored him as a National Educator of the Year.
  • Wootten House, named for Morgan Wootten, who also joined DeMatha in 1956 and as the basketball coach there, led the Stags to 1,274 victories, 33 conference titles, 16 city titles and five national titles. In 2000, he was voted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. In his 46 years at DeMatha, Wootten also taught world history and served as the school’s athletic director and as a football coach. He was named as a National Educator of the Year by Walt Disney in 1990.

The Heritage Hallway also includes a world map highlighting the Trinitarians’ ministries in Asia, Africa, Europe, North America and South America. DeMatha is the only Catholic high school sponsored by the Trinitarians in the United States. The order’s ministries in this country include parish work, hospital and prison chaplaincies, college and seminary administration, advocacy for persecuted Christians, and outreach to newly arrived immigrants.

The hallway has a portrait of Trinitarian Father Augustine Derricks, a man of African and Latin heritage who in 1921 became the first American ordained to the priesthood for the Trinitarian order. He died in 1929 before achieving his dream of establishing a ministry to the African-American community in the Jim Crow South.

And the hallway includes plaques and photos celebrating distinguished DeMatha alumni from each decade of the school’s existence, including:

Allen Ahearn of the class of 1955 who worked for the Department of Defense before starting Quill & Brush Booksellers in Bethesda; John Walker of the class of 1965, who has served as a lawyer representing working and impoverished people in Mississippi since 1973; Russell Fleming of the class of 1975 who after graduating from Howard University began a career in the chemical and plastics industries; John Lesko of the class of 1981, who served as a professor in mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech and whose engineering work has involved bridge structures, high voltage electrical insulation, ship structures, and energy design for buildings; Nicholas Stefanelli of the class of 1998, the chef and owner of the Masseria restaurant in Washington, D.C.; Michael Ayala of the class of 2004 who teaches world history at DeMatha and created a course on the African American experience; and Khalil Pettus of the class of 2011 who worked as an investment banking analyst at Goldman Sachs and now works for an investment banking firm.

For the 2020s, there is a mirror for current DeMatha students to see themselves.

Washington Cardinal Wilton Gregory sprinkles holy water as he blesses the Heritage Hallway at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Maryland, on Nov. 12, 2021. Standing behind him is Trinitarian Father James Day, the school’s president, and joining them at the blessing are a group of DeMatha students, at center and right. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

As he blessed the Heritage Hallway, Cardinal Gregory prayed that through the witness of the Trinitarians and DeMatha’s 10,000 alumni, “May each student be inspired to be faith-filled gentlemen and scholars who strive to reflect the truth and goodness of the Holy Trinity.”

During its 75th anniversary year, DeMatha Catholic High School had a Sept. 9, 2021 opening Mass in its convocation center that marked the first school-wide liturgy for students faculty and staff since December 2019, as the pandemic disrupted school activities. That Mass was held on the same date that the school held its first classes exactly 75 years earlier. Following the recent surge in COVID-19 cases, DeMatha’s 75th anniversary gathering has been rescheduled for May 26, 2022 at the College Park Marriott and Conference Center.