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Cardinal Gregory says Sacred Heart School’s diversity reflects unity that Holy Spirit seeks

Sacred Heart School students attend a May 19, 2021 Mass for the school community celebrated by Washington Cardinal Wilton Gregory at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart. (CS photos/Andrew Biraj)

Sacred Heart School in Washington, with its bilingual classes and student body coming from different countries throughout the world, is an example of the unity that the Holy Spirit seeks for the people of God, Cardinal Wilton Gregory told students during a May 19 Mass there.

“The (Holy) Spirit helps us understand one another, and out of understanding one another, He helps us learn to love one another,” Cardinal Gregory said. “It is okay to come from a different group; it is okay to come from a different race; it is okay to come from a different culture.”

The cardinal called the school “a great example of God’s presence here in this part of the archdiocese.”

Students pray together during the May 19 Mass that Cardinal Gregory celebrated for Sacred Heart School. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

Celebrating the Mass just a few days before the Church celebrates Pentecost and the descent of the Holy Spirit, Cardinal Gregory told the students, parents, faculty and others gathered for the Mass that “the important work of the Spirit from day one is the Spirit creates unity. He comes to bring us together.”

“It is important for people to live together whether they come from different racial groups, language groups or cultural groups,” Cardinal Gregory said. “We need a spirit of unity in the world today. You young people (of Sacred Heart School) are a great sign of unity in the Church.”

Cardinal Gregory laughs as he speaks during the May 19 Mass for Sacred Heart School in Washington. (CS photos/Andrew Biraj)

Sacred Heart School, the only dual language immersion school in the Archdiocese of Washington, offers a bilingual education in Spanish and English to students in pre-kindergarten through the eighth grade, with students in early childhood education taught in Spanish, students in the first through fourth grade having one day of classes in all subjects in English and the next day in Spanish, and starting in fifth grade, certain classes are taught to students only in Spanish.

A girl prays during Cardinal Gregory’s May 19 Mass for Sacred Heart School in Washington.. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

Recalling how at the first Pentecost, the followers of Jesus were able to understand each other despite the different languages spoken, Cardinal Gregory told students that “you come from different parts of the world and you speak different languages, but you understand each other.”

Washington’s archbishop addresses the Sacred Heart School community during his homily at the May 19 Mass at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

The cardinal lamented that “some do not understand each other, and sadly do not want to understand each other, so God has His work cut out for Him.”

“Whenever the Spirit comes into the midst of a community there is courage, there is wisdom, there is peace,” Cardinal Gregory said. He also told the students to rely on the Holy Spirit to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.

“The Spirit comes to the Church to give us strength and authority to proclaim and teach the Gospel of Jesus,” he said. “We are not always prepared to speak the truth and proclaim the risen Lord, but He (the Holy Spirit) gives us wisdom and strength to proclaim God’s Gospel truth.”

Elise Heil, the principal of Sacred Heart School, speaks during the cardinal's Mass for the school. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

Prior to the Mass, Elise Heil, principal of Sacred Heart School who in February was named the Archdiocese of Washington’s Distinguished Principal of the Year for the 2020-21 school year, called the event “truly historic.”

She noted that among those attending the Mass were Rohulamin Quander and his wife, Carmen. The two met while students at Sacred Heart School in the early 1950s. Heil pointed out that Quander was one of the first Black students to attend Sacred Heart School, thus integrating the school long before the Supreme Court struck down school segregation.

“Mr. Quander wanted to be an altar server but they said no … they didn’t want any Black students at the altar, but today we are here with the first African American cardinal celebrating Mass at this same altar,” Heil said. “It is truly historic.”

Carmen and Rohulamin Quander, who helped integrate Sacred Heart School in the early 1950s, attend the May 19 Mass for the school community celebrated by Cardinal Gregory, who became the first African American cardinal in the history of the Catholic Church in the United States this past fall. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

At the end of Mass, Cardinal Gregory blessed students at the school preparing for their First Holy Communions and their Confirmations. The school presented Cardinal Gregory with a student-painted cross.

A Sacred Heart student presents Cardinal Gregory with a gift at the end of the Mass, a student-painted cross. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

The Mass was the second time this year Cardinal Gregory visited with students at the school. This past January, he “met” via Zoom with Sacred Heart second graders preparing for their First Holy Communion.

Prior to the Mass, Cardinal Gregory met with staff and benefactors of the Consortium of Catholic Academies, of which Sacred Heart School is a part. The consortium – a coalition of four center-city Catholic elementary schools in the District of Columbia – includes St. Anthony Catholic School, Sacred Heart School, St. Francis Xavier Catholic Academy, and St. Thomas More Catholic Academy.

Cardinal Gregory blessed them and thanked them for their efforts to help students in the consortium.