- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 30, 2005

A brief, prayerful ceremony yesterday morning in a Rockville school gymnasium marked the beginning of the school year for tens of thousands of Catholic students in the Archdiocese of Washington.

“Every child is a gift from God,” Patricia Weitzel-O’Neill, schools superintendent in the Washington archdiocese, told scores of parents and more than 500 students at St. Elizabeth School in Rockville. “Children, everything is possible.”

Auxiliary Bishop Francisco Gonzalez cut a “ribbon of new beginnings” to mark the school’s 39th birthday.

St. Elizabeth is one of the elementary schools in the archdiocese, which covers parishes in the District and in Montgomery, Prince George’s, Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s counties in Maryland.

Nearly 33,500 Catholic students will be attending 112 elementary and secondary schools in the archdiocese this year.

About 18,000 Catholic students in Northern Virginia began school Monday in more than 40 schools in the Diocese of Arlington.

During the 20-minute ceremony yesterday, the neatly attired St. Elizabeth students stood in rows with classmates, reciting a Pledge of Respect and the Pledge of Allegiance with Monsignor John F. Macfarlane, pastor of St. Elizabeth.

Mrs. Weitzel-O’Neill also referred to pictures of bumblebees hung throughout the school. She said new Principal Vincent P. Spadoni had installed the pictures to encourage and inspire the students.

“Bumblebees aren’t supposed to be able to fly,” she said. “But they do.”

Bishop Gonzalez blessed and sprinkled holy water on 20 framed images of St. Elizabeth that will be posted in classrooms.

Parents said the ceremony helped make the first day of school special for their children.

“We’ve not had anything like this ever before,” said Chris Conti, a Potomac mother of 13-year-old twins, Elizabeth and Rachael, who are in their final year at St. Elizabeth. “It made it special for them.”

Susan Fitzgerald said she has been driving her two sons to St. Elizabeth for 12 years, even though the commute for eight years from their home in Laytonsville took 45 minutes. Her elder son now attends St. John’s College High School in the District. Her younger son, Matt, is a fourth-grader at St. Elizabeth.

“We’ve loved this school,” Mrs. Fitzgerald said, but “Matt was sort of dreading this first day.”

Matt fished and went swimming during his summer vacation, she said. “I think this helped. He looked pretty happy,” Mrs. Fitzgerald said of the ceremony.

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