Cardinal Newman Society recognizes Christ-centeredness, strong Catholic identity
With Christ as its ultimate teacher, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel School, Newport News, has been recognized as a Cardinal Newman Society Catholic Education Honor Roll School for shaping students spiritually, academically, socially and emotionally.
“The Honor Roll is really recognizing that our faith isn’t just something in a religion classroom but really is something that the kids encounter daily,” said Dominican Sister Anna Joseph, principal. “It inspires us to want to be evermore faithful and evermore be the witness that Christ asks us to be for our children.”
Kathy McKenna, OLMC School admissions coordinator and military liaison, said that the school, which has 263 students from pre-K to eighth grade, is the first Richmond of Diocese school to receive this national distinction, a fiveyear honor.
The Cardinal Newman Society evaluates schools on how they meet five principles of a Catholic education: inspired by divine mission; models Christian communion; encounters Christ in prayer, Scripture and sacraments; integrally forms the human person; and imparts a Christian understanding of the world.
“We view every student as a child of God, and we treat every child as a child of God,” McKenna said. “For parents, I think that should be pretty comforting to know that their children aren’t going to be just learning academic subjects, but they are going to be loved while they’re in our parish school.”
Father Dan Beeman, pastor of OLMC Parish, said the award “is a reminder that we do have a sense of Catholic identity and a reminder that evangelization is the most important thing we do in our school.”
Divine mission is basis
Father Beeman and Sister Anna Joseph said the first of the principles – inspired by divine mission – is the basis for all of the other tenets.
“Our most important work as a school is revealing the truth, goodness, and beauty of Christ and his Church to our students and their families,” Father Beeman explained. “With that guiding mission, the five principles become easily lived in everything we do.”
Catholic identity is fostered through religion classes, Scripture, sacraments and prayer and is integrated in all classes and school activities, Sister Anna Joseph said.
“It is one of our greatest strengths here that we have been faithful to the Church and her teachings, that we have provided an atmosphere that really helps the children to see that their formation is a formation in faith and virtue and knowledge all together,” she said. “Every teacher in the building is really a witness of Christ who is the teacher.”
She added that teachers view themselves as “instruments” of God.
An example of how the school integrally forms the human person and imparts a Christian understanding of the world was an eighth grade civics class wherein students learned that good citizenship carries a mandate to enact civic responsibilities such as voicing their moral opinions to leaders. They studied a Virginia House bill on abortion and compared it to Church teaching on the sanctity of life. They subsequently attended the Virginia March for Life in Richmond, McKenna explained.
Students pray daily, go to Mass weekly, have eucharistic adoration monthly and opportunities for the sacrament of reconciliation at least twice a year, more often if requested. They also have the opportunity to pray the rosary and Stations of the Cross and participate in Faith Day, an all-day retreat in which students of all grades worship, pray and give service to others as a school community. McKenna added that Mini Faith Day activities happen at other times throughout the year.
Faith families, multi-grade groups of 15 to 20 students, gather several times a year to re-enforce to students that “we’re brothers and sisters in Christ” on a common “journey” to learn more about faith and virtues, Sister Anna Joseph said.
“It reminds the kids that they’re not just part of a particular grade, but our whole school is a community of faith,” she said.
Centered on the Eucharist
Father Beeman said, “The Eucharist is the center to everything we do as a Catholic School.”
“In the Eucharist, at the celebration of Holy Mass, every principle of Catholic identity is fully revealed and lived,” he explained. “The more we turn hearts to love Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, the more the students will find their home and their hope in their Catholic faith.”
Sister Anna Joseph said the chapel in the center of the school is “a great source of hope for our students to always know that the Blessed Sacrament is always near them.”
“In our school building itself, the chapel is the heart of our school and reminds us that Christ is at the heart of all we do,” she said. “Christ is really the teacher in this building.”
Students are taught to follow the Ten Commandments and to live the Beatitudes. With that in mind, students embrace the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.
Students have distributed donated bottled water, canned goods and clothing to the needy along with hand-crafted friendship bracelets and encouraging notes. They collected and gave shoes to those in need.
Last year, second graders visited residents in a nearby assisted living facility, and when COVID restrictions occurred, students made cards for the homebound and those in nursing homes. Each year, the eighth grade class works on the grounds of the cloistered Poor Clares monastery in Barhamsville.
Parents integral to formation
Sister Anna Joseph said parents are the primary educators in the spiritual formation of students. Keeping that in mind, the school offers retreats for parents, gives them the opportunity to participate in small-group devotions in the school chapel, and encourages them to assist with classroom events, field trips, retreats, service projects and Faith Day activities, according to the school’s Honor Roll application.
Father Beeman added that OLMC School partners with parents to help their children to see the world in the light of Christ and to help them direct everything to that hope.
“When a student is struggling with a personal issue, a family dynamic, a sudden loss or anxieties, having a Christian worldview allows us to offer the students a hope far greater than the world. There is no greater consolation and help than the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” he said.
Sister Anna Joseph agreed.
“They see the world through the lens of ‘I know that Jesus has saved us and that this matters in how I see everything now,’” she said.