All-School Blog

January 24, 2019

I must confess to a selfish first thought when the news of the standoff last Friday between students from Covington Catholic High School and a Native American elder blew up on social media, the internet, and TV. My thinking went something like, "This hurts all of us in Catholic schools."

Next, my administrator mind kicked in: Where were the chaperones? On a trip where the students were representing their school, should the chaperones have allowed them to wear the politically-charged MAGA hats? What happened in the lead up to the confrontation? I am sure my peers in Kentucky are near exhaustion in answering these and many more tough questions. Processing Friday's confrontation will require the very best from students, teachers, parents, and administrators. It will take a long time. It will not be easy. And the critics will be watching.

Every school administrator understands not to be eager to jump to conclusions. Presidents, Principals, Deans ... in these roles, we learn early that we need to hear more than one point of view. Since this story hit, there has been no shortage of points of view. We have seen a deluge of news and commentary. Opinions have been offered from across the political spectrum. It's hard to keep up and, six days out, interest in the confrontation has yet to fade from the news cycle. Perhaps the story has staying power because it encapsulates so many of the points of division in our deeply polarized culture.

As the leader of a Catholic school, I feel for Covington Catholic. They came to DC to participate in the mission-affirming March for Life Day. Our students attend the same event every year. I have been made to wonder: How effectively does our Good Counsel education prepare our students for a dealing with a similar confrontation?

We make efforts on several fronts to equip students with the spiritual, intellectual, social, and emotional skills to navigate the world. For decades, a hallmark of a Good Counsel education has been engagement in service to the poor and marginalized. Our insistence on direct service and "being with" rather than simply "giving to" or "doing for" translates, we believe, to greater empathy and respect. Our Junior Retreat ranks among the most powerful GC experiences, opening eyes to the challenges faced by classmates and the reality of love and support to be found in being a member of our community. More recently, we have instituted an advisory program. Still in its infancy, we see the small adult-to-student ratio and long-term connection as powerful ways to strengthen a sense of belonging and, as the name implies, provide sound advice. Lastly, driven by the Board's 2015 Strategic Plan, we have focused on diversity, inclusion, equity and justice. Our students are encouraged to understand and appreciate the uniqueness and inherent dignity of every human person.

None of these aspects of a Good Counsel education grants students immunity from poor decision making in the heat of the moment. For young people lacking in experience, it's easy to be confused, self-conscious, and tone deaf to how "the other" feels.

Commentators have expounded on many aspects of the face-off between Covington Catholic student Nick Sandmann and Native American elder Nathan Philipps. My hope is that our students, placed in a similar circumstance, would handle themselves well. We live in times where understanding and sensitivity towards Native American concerns does not get a lot of play. For example, locally, raising the question of the appropriateness of the name of the Washington football team usually results in shrugged shoulders and "What's the big deal?" On Sunday night, millions of viewers watched the owner of the Kansas City Chiefs vigorously beating an enormous drum. The name "Pocahontas" has gained currency as a label to belittle a political rival. Clearly, we have a way to go in respect for Native American culture. Back in the fall, one of our board members shared insights about his life among the Lakota people on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, the poorest place in America. The presentation helped me, and many of our students fortunate enough to attend, take some steps on the journey towards greater understanding of people whose reality is far from ours in Montgomery County.

Last Friday's incident tells me, loudly, that we equip students for dealing with the storm and stress of our polarized times when what we teach them every day has our mission in mind: We inspire our students to excel, serve, and love. To deliver on mission we must expose students to the unfamiliar, encourage inquiry, and support opportunities for growth. In our divided times, the call seems urgent.

All the publicity surrounding the Covington Catholic incident has a positive side. There is an implicit call for every Catholic school to self-examination and renewal. At Good Counsel, in line with our core Xaverian values, let's make a special effort to inspire excellencethat comes without entitlement or condescension. Let's inspire servicein ways that awaken humility and compassion. And let's inspire lovethat appreciates the uniqueness and inherent dignity of every human person.

Our Lady of Good Counsel, pray for us.

Read more about All - School Blog from President Dr. Barker

Feast of St. Francis Xavier

Dear Friends:

Yesterday was a day to give special thanks for the gift of the faculty and staff of Our Lady of Good Counsel High School.

Our school community gathered to celebrate the Feast of St. Francis Xavier, patron of the Xaverian Brothers. As is our tradition, at the end of this Mass we recognized employees celebrating 5, 10, 15, all the way to 40 years of service to Good Counsel. After that, we presented the Theodore James Ryken Award. The award is made in each of the thirteen Xaverian Brothers Sponsored Schools to "an adult member of the school community who by her or his commitment and dedication lives the mission of the Xaverian charism." This year's honoree is Walter Tombini of our Maintenance Department.

Born in Argentina, Walter had a professional soccer career in his homeland, as well as Guatemala and El Salvador, before arriving in the US to play for the Washington Diplomats in 1986. When his pro career was over, Walter found his way to our facilities staff where he has been a tower of strength for almost 30 years. Both my colleagues and the many students who have played in our soccer program over the years can attest to the kindness and humility of Walter. Athletic Director Pat Bates says, "He will do anything you ask him." Dean of Students Ana Lopez says it, too: "There's nothing that's asked of him that he's not willing to do."

Mr. Bates recalls an example of Walter's humility. Walter would occasionally join in for soccer during Mr. Bates' Team Sports class. Walter would never shoot the ball himself. He was only interested in passing the ball and setting students up for a shot. Once, when another staff member joined in and seemed to want to run students over and light up the scoreboard, Walter kicked him off the team.

Our Building Services Manager Jorge Gonzalez describes Walter as "a person of trust, with a big heart, ready to help anyone who is in need, even if that person is unknown to him."

Walter loves to shake hands. If you've ever had the pleasure, you can probably recall how tiny your hand seems when Walter's giant mitt wraps around it.

However, at heart, Walter is really more of a hugger. Girls Varsity Soccer Coach Jim Bruno recalls: "Earlier this year when we beat St. John's he was so excited, he grabbed me and gave me a hug that I thought broke a few of my ribs."

I shared with the students a story from three years ago when Pope Francis was visiting DC. I invited Walter to accompany a group of students to greet his countryman, the Holy Father. Walter was overcome with the thought that he might get to see Pope Francis up close. That got me a rib-cracking hug.

Walter got what he wanted. Pictures of the Walter & Francis moment outside the Vatican Embassy appeared in newspapers across the world. We made a short video titled, Walter Tombini – The who hugged the Pope in which Walter tells his story. He is not entirely accurate. He refers to Pope Francis giving him the hug. The video evidence suggests it was the other way round as Walter pulls the Holy Father in tight to him and holds on for five seconds before giving Francis a kiss on the cheek.

On this day when we remember the Church's great missionary saint, we are delighted to recognize one person in a special way. As I reflect on how Walter embodies the core Xaverian values of simplicity, humility, compassion, zeal and trust, I am also reminded that he has plenty of company. Our Lady of Good Counsel High School is built on the talent and commitment of my colleagues who in the common, ordinary, unspectacular flow of everyday life deliver on our mission: We inspire our students to excel, serve, and love.

As you read this letter perhaps an influential teacher, coach, director, or mentor has come to mind. I encourage you to offer a prayer of thanks today for these modern-day missionaries who, like Francis Xavier, have played a role in helping us to go and set the world on fire.

Warmest regards,

Paul G. Barker, Ed.D.


Read more about Walter Tombini, Theodore James Ryken Award Recipient

At the 2018 St. Francis Xavier Society Celebration Dinner, an event to honor donors and special supporters of the GC community, Senior Alexia Ayuk provided the room full of attendees with a powerful speech. Alexia and some of her fellow classmates started their own charity called "A Book For My Birthday" and have since successfully collected and donated over 14,000 books to children who do not have the resources to get books of their own. Alexia credited the generosity of the donors and honored guests for giving her, and students alike at GC, the opportunity to pursue their education at Good Counsel. "When every single one of you donates something to this school, you are not just donating a dollar value, you are empowering a dream."

Read more about Senior Alexia Ayuk's Speech at the 2018 SFX Dinner

When I opened my mailbox to discover my High School Diplomats decision letter, my heart pounded with anxiety. But those fears soon turn into unbridled joy when I discovered that I was accepted to attend the ten-day program hosted at Princeton University that allowed American and Japanese students to live and interact with each other.

HSD is sponsored by the AIU Insurance Company of Tokyo and the Freeman Foundation, and each selected student is offered a fully paid scholarship to participate in the cross-cultural exchange. More than simply a means to practice diplomacy, HSD is a way for students to be leaders in their community.

Before traveling to Princeton, I participated in homestay, which allowed me to host two other Japanese students for three days and introduce them to a typical American lifestyle. We also had fun cycling, swimming, and playing laser tag.

Each day at Princeton had a special theme that roommate pairs, one Japanese student and one American student, participated in. My personal favorite was Great Gatsby, which allowed students to enjoy a night filled with games, karaoke, and prizes.

However, the Diplomat Talks also provided a more serious outlet for discussion. Topics revolving around the power of global citizenship and the necessity of war to keep peace allowed me to actively engage with people from around the United States and Japan. I was surprised when I heard that one of the Japanese students sees armed US soldiers from a nearby base on the train she takes each day.

In culture classes, I made origami, experienced a traditional tea ceremony, and prepared sushi, all while learning new words. I remember pretending to enjoy the tea that my classmate prepared for me despite the fact that he threw in clump of matcha powder into my cup and forgot to mix it.

On the last night, I participated in the candle ceremony that signified the end of our experience. Despite our language barrier, my Japanese roommate and I had become good friends because of our similar interests and humor. Watching him audibly struggle to keep his candle burning as the wind threated to puff it out, all while everyone else solemnly continued on with the ceremony still brings a smile to my face.

It is through this program that I learned the importance of communicating in more ways than just language, and the simplicity of forming relationships with people who are both similar and different to me in so many ways. I am truly thankful to be part of such an enriching experience and wholeheartedly recommend that anyone else interested should apply.

To be eligible for High School Diplomats US, students may apply during their sophomore and junior year of high school. The application process includes an application with essays, an optional creative work, a teacher recommendation, a passport photo, and an in-person interview. The program contact for HSD is the American Director, Ms. Celine Zapolski. After American students successfully complete HSD in America, they are eligible to apply to travel to Japan for 3 weeks during the following summer on a full scholarship.

Applications are currently open until January 9, 2019. All materials must be received by the application deadline in order for an application to be considered complete.

To learn more about HSD, visit

Read more about Student Blog by Haley Hopkins

Students, more than two thirds of you identify as Catholics. Let me provide a brief history lesson. The Maryland Colony was founded in the 1630s as safe haven for Catholics persecuted in England. In less than 70 years the tide turned; Mass and Catholic schools were outlawed in Maryland. In the 19thcentury, large numbers of Catholic immigrants began to arrive from Ireland and Germany. Many of you have ancestors among them. Anti-Catholic rhetoric was widespread. Catholics were deemed to be un-American and opposed to the principles of freedom and democracy. Less than a hundred years ago, a weekly newspaper, The Menace, focused exclusively on stirring up hatred against Catholics; it had a national circulation of 1.5 million. In 1928, Al Smith, a Catholic, ran for President and rumors arose that, if elected, he would be taking orders from the Pope. The same arguments circulated when John Kennedy ran for President.

Today, things are different; Catholics are very much part of the mainstream. Yes, Church scandals are a source of anger, sadness and embarrassment for those of us who identify as Catholic. Confidence in Catholic leadership is shaken. However, when it comes to broad acceptance of being identified as Catholic, most of us would struggle to recall a time when we felt persecuted for our faith. We spend little time thinking about who will speak up for us, who will protect us. We spend even less time in fear of an attack on our place of worship.

The events of the past weekend should jolt us out of any complacency.

Saturday's savage massacre in Pittsburgh is an attack on our American way of life and on all persons who believe in God. Coming just three years after Dylann Roof killed nine worshippers at AME Emanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and Devin Kelley gunned down 26 at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, the murder of eleven people at worship at Tree of Life is the latest deadly episode of evil. This took place in a synagogue. News reports this weekend made frequent mention of an ugly surge in anti-Semitic violence across our nation in recent years. The Anti-Defamation League cites a 57% increase in 2017 alone. Clearly, this was an attack on people because they were Jews. Jewish people need no reminder what it's like to be singled out for hatred and persecution. We are, of course, outraged by the massacre. These times and our faith challenge us to do more. I expect many of you have heard the famous poem composed by German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller. The poem reminds each of us of our responsibility for one another.

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Our mission speaks of the responsibility we have for one another: "We (that's every person here) inspire our students to excel, serve, and love." That mission derives from our belief in Jesus Christ as Son of God, Son of Man and his clear command: "Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." Our Catholic social teaching rests on respect for the inherent dignity and worth of each human person. In our community, let us be a people who do more than pay lip service to love for others.

We thank God we are not all the same. We bring our unique selves to school every day. Look at that person to your left, to your right. Some fascinating differences ... some frustrating. Let's be clear, though, that Good Counsel cannot be the school for you if the way you choose to deal with difference is to be a hater.When we see the differences of race, ethnicity, religion, political affiliation, sexual orientation, where you live, how much money your family has, you name it, our way has to be to choose to walk the path of respect and love for one another. Right now, perhaps you can think of where you need to change, where you need to reset a relationship. Do it. In our school, let's choose to live each common, ordinary, unspectacular day trying to inspire one another. That is in our power.

On Tuesday morning, we prayed the Kaddish. Let us bring this reflection to a close with another Jewish prayer. After each statement, I invite you to say, "We remember them." As you say those words, offer up in prayer the community of Tree of Life and all who have died at the hands of senseless violence. Think, too, on this All Saints' Day, of all who have gone before us, in our families and in this community of Our Lady of Good Counsel High School. Let us pray.

At the rising of the sun and at its going down

We remember them.

At the blowing of the wind and the chill of winter

We remember them.

At the opening of the buds and in the rebirth of spring

We remember them.

At the blueness of the skies and in the warmth of summer

We remember them.

At the rustling of the leaves and in the beauty of autumn

We remember them.

At the beginning of the year and when it ends

We remember them.

As long as we live, they too will live; for they are now a part of us, as

We remember them.

When we are weary and in need of strength

We remember them.

When we are lost and sick at heart

We remember them.

When we have joy we crave to share

We remember them.

When we have decisions that are difficult to make

We remember them.

When we have achievements that are based on theirs

We remember them.

As long as we live, they too will live; for they are now a part of us, as

We remember them.

Read more about Excerpts From A Reflection Offered by Dr. Paul Barker at All Saints Day Mass