All-School Blog


Dear Friends,

Yesterday presented a stark contrast in images.

Following a heavy burst of rain in the morning, Digital Media Specialist Mac Kennedy captured a sharply-defined rainbow from the north entrance to school. In the foreground is a beautifully landscaped garden just coming into bloom. In the middle stands a stone cross, crafted by Andy Cocozzella '73. During this holiest week of the liturgical year, the juxtaposition of rainbow and cross seemed fitting. Our week-long solemn recollection of the suffering and death of Jesus will yield to a glorious celebration of the Resurrection, of triumph over death, on Easter Sunday. The rainbow, set against the gloom of the clouds, is a beautiful symbol of the hope that sustains us.

A few hours later, the news feed on my phone brought the jarring news of fire at the Notre-Dame de Paris. In the ensuing hours, a catastrophe – religious, cultural, architectural, historical - played out before us.

I can recall my visit to Notre-Dame in 2012. I watched the antics of street performers and trinket vendors as I stood in line outside on a muggy July afternoon. Once inside, the cathedral offered welcome relief from the heat. I remember, too, how dark it was. And how beautiful.

Even though the percentage of practicing Catholics is modest these days, TV commentators emphasized how Notre-Dame plays a central role in the identity of the French people. I heard last night that French maps calculate distances from Paris using Notre Dame as the center. President Macron spoke movingly of the importance of Notre-Dame to Catholics, the French nation, and the wider world. He also spoke about hope.

My thoughts turned to our own sacred space dedicated to Our Lady. Our Chapel is situated at the center of our school's footprint. At the main entrance, there it is, straight ahead. It juts into the courtyard, surrounded on three sides by the academic wing and the Gallery on the other. The windows above the entrance evoke the Gothic shapes of Notre-Dame de Paris. Almost every student has the daily opportunity to glance in while descending the main stairway. The Chapel is the heart of our school.

Perhaps it was coincidental that we had a much larger than usual attendance at 7:30am Mass this morning. Or maybe in the aftermath of the Notre-Dame fire, a sense of collective loss stirred some to come and stay a while.

In this Holy Week where we contemplate the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ, I welcome all in the Good Counsel community to stop by our sacred space named for Notre-Dame, Our Lady. Amidst the storm and stress of daily life, tranquil time spent in a beautiful space, can have an uplifting effect. It's not unlike seeing that rainbow.

We are a people of hope.

Wishing you abundant blessings this Easter.

Read more about A Message from Dr. Barker, President

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.

President

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 http://www.highschooldiplomats.com/

Read more about Student Blog by Haley Hopkins