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Priest honored by D.C. Catholic Business Network says community support is vital for Catholic schools

Father Patrick Smith, the pastor of St. Augustine Parish who received the 2019 Clergy of the Year Award from the Catholic Business Network of Washington, D.C., speaks at the group’s Oct. 3 gala. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

The effort in recent years to keep St. Augustine Catholic School open has involved a community working together to provide a Catholic education to children, just as the founders of the historic African-American parish did in opening their school there in 1858, said Father Patrick Smith, St. Augustine’s pastor, as he received the 2019 Clergy of the Year Award from the Catholic Business Network of Washington, D.C.

“It was definitely a group effort; a community of faith that came together, each doing their part to assure that our parish school not only survived but thrived,” Father Smith said after accepting the award at the network’s sixth annual gala on Oct. 3 at the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington.

That kind of effort is necessary for any worthwhile accomplishment, he said, adding that is what the Catholic Business Network does in providing scholarships to students attending D.C. Catholic schools.

Justin Silvers, the president of the Catholic Business Network of Washington, D.C., said the network supports Catholic schools in their work of transforming the lives of their students. He noted that since its founding in 2013, the network has raised more than $600,000 for need-based grants and scholarships, including for 11 students whose essays earned them $4,000 scholarships over their seventh and eighth grade academic years.

The excerpts of the essays in the dinner program included one from a student who wrote, “My experience in Catholic school has taught me that hard work and a great attitude can help you achieve anything. Through faith, knowledge and service, I am becoming someone I am proud of. I look forward to having great teachers each year who are preparing me for the future.”

Silvers noted, “They (these students) bear testament to the power of Catholic education and bear witness to why we’re here tonight.”

Those at the gala greeted Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory with a standing ovation. He noted that in his first few months as archbishop, he has seen firsthand how the Archdiocese of Washington is blessed “with extraordinary schools.” He paid special tribute to the religious orders that founded and originally staffed many of the Catholic schools in this area.

“They established a wonderful heritage of learning and faith,” he said, praising the network for their work in continuing that legacy. “Thank you for supporting Catholic schools and Catholic school students.”

Greta Kreuz, a retired news reporter and anchor for ABC 7 in Washington, served as the evening’s master of ceremonies, and noted, “I really am dedicated to Catholic education.”

Her two children, who are now adults, attended Catholic school, and she helps out at her parish’s school, Blessed Sacrament School in Washington.

“The kids are so polite and respectful. The teachers are so dedicated. The parents are engaged,” she said, adding that she believes Catholic education “is really an investment we can’t afford not to be a part of.” Blessed Sacrament was recently one of four Catholic schools in the archdiocese named as National Blue Ribbon Schools of excellence by the U.S. Department of Education.

During the Oct. 3 gala of the Catholic Business Network of Washington, D.C., Randy Romero, an eighth grade student from San Miguel School in Washington, offered a testimony about the school’s impact on his life. At center is Maureen Appel, the new president of San Miguel School who previously led Connelly School of the Holy Child in Potomac, Maryland. At left is retired TV reporter Greta Kreuz, the master of ceremonies for the evening. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

Randy Romero, an eighth grader at San Miguel School in Washington – a Catholic boys’ middle school established by the Christian Brothers that serves students with family roots in 12 Latin American countries – said the public school that he previously attended had problems with drugs, gangs and violence.

“I know everybody at San Miguel cares for me. I found a family that will always be in my heart,” he said, describing the school as “a safe place where I can pursue my dreams and accomplish them.”

Romero shared the story of his father, who fled to the United States as an 11-year-old after a family member was murdered in El Salvador’s civil war. His father, he said, has worked hard since coming to the United States, including as a dishwasher and as a U.S. Marine in Iraq.

“My father is my hero,” Romero said, adding that after graduating from San Miguel, he hopes to attend Georgetown Preparatory School in North Bethesda, Maryland, and then college and medical school, with the goal of becoming a neurosurgeon. “After that, I would like to help others at San Miguel, like San Miguel helped me,” he said.

Also at the dinner, the network honored Jake Abbott as its Volunteer of the Year for his support of St. Anthony Catholic School, and J.S. Carroccio Landscaping as its Business Partner of the Year for that company’s support of the Washington Jesuit Academy. Anita Segreti received the network’s Founder’s Award for her work in helping found the group and for providing it with ongoing support.

The Catholic Business Network of Washington, D.C., also honored Vincent C. Burke III as its Catholic Business Person of the Year. Burke, a senior advisor in the Brown Advisory investment management firm, previously served as managing director and counsel at the Bank of Georgetown and as a partner at the Furey, Doolan & Abell, LLP law firm. Over the years Burke has served as chairman of the Consortium of Catholic Academies and as chairman of the Monumental Scholars Fund, which supports students attending the four consortium schools as well as Archbishop Carroll High School and Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School. He also chaired the Cardinal’s Appeal for the Archdiocese of Washington, served on the board of Catholic Charities, and on the board of trustees of Georgetown Preparatory School and Georgetown Visitation.

“I’ve tried to live the words of St. Luke’s Gospel, to whom much is given, much is expected,” Burke said.

Vincent Burke III, at right, was honored by the Catholic Business Network of Washington, D.C., as its 2019 Catholic Business Person of the Year. Presenting the award to him at the group’s Oct. 3 gala were Justin Silvers, left, the president of CBN-DC, and Msgr. John Enzler, center, the president and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

In his remarks after being honored as the group’s Clergy of the Year, Father Smith said that when he became the pastor of St. Augustine Parish and its school, he realized “this assignment would provide for me the unique opportunity to do for many hundreds of children what my parents did for me, my four brothers and three sisters: through tremendously hard work, sacrifice, sweat, struggle and hours of dedication – they provided for us a good Catholic school education that we otherwise would never have gotten; and that they never received because of racial segregation.”

Through that sacrifice, he said his parents were able to send their children to Holy Redeemer and St. Francis Xavier elementary schools, and then two children to Gonzaga College High School, two to Notre Dame Academy and two to St. Anthony’s High School in Washington, one to Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, and send him the future priest to Mackin High School in Washington. Father Smith said he later realized that the sacrifice was not his parents’ alone, but that it involved a “networking” of financial support of extended family members, especially his aunts and uncles.

“You see, the Christian life is really not about our ability, but our availability,” Father Smith said. “CBN members, continue to make yourselves available to God and dare to believe that God’s greatest works lie ahead of us, not behind.”

He noted that 100 years after St. Augustine’s founders started a Catholic school for children there, St. Carthage School in Chicago opened its doors in 1958 to African American children in its neighborhood, including a sixth grader named Wilton Gregory who was inspired to become Catholic there and later seek the priesthood and ultimately became the archbishop of Washington.

“We have the opportunity to continue this legacy today, if we dare to further avail ourselves to the mission of Catholic school education and to the God who makes the impossible achievable and the out-of-reach accessible – especially to those who need it the most,” Father Smith said.