- The Washington Times - Friday, March 18, 2005

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick’s blessing yesterday of St. Patrick’s School in Rockville helped mark the opening of the first Catholic elementary school in Montgomery County in the past 10 years.

“I look at this as a new day, a new sunshine, a new opportunity,” said Cardinal McCarrick, archbishop of Washington.

Yesterday also marked the first time in Cardinal McCarrick’s 28 years as a bishop that he dedicated a Catholic school.

With his right arm in a sling while recovering from shoulder surgery, Cardinal McCarrick blessed the school and sprinkled holy water on its grounds. The ceremony also featured a chorus of “Give Thanks” by the school’s 41 prekindergarten through third-grade students.

The school officially opened in the fall, with students attending classes in the parish center.

Archdiocese officials said the school’s opening fulfills the growing need for faith-based education in an area of tremendous growth.

“It’s a response to that need,” said Kathleen Schwartz, an assistant schools superintendent for the archdiocese. “Parents tell us that what they’re looking for in a school is an excellent academic experience. But they are [also] looking for that faith-based environment.”

Montgomery County has nearly 1 million residents. St. Patrick’s is one of 36 Catholic schools in the county serving nearly 12,600 students.

Enrollment in Catholic elementary schools in the county increased by 39 percent from 1994 to 2004 and by 9 percent in the archdiocese during that same period, according to officials from the archdiocese, which includes the District and Calvert, Charles, Montgomery, St. Mary’s and Prince George’s counties.

However, enrollment in Catholic elementary schools nationwide over the past 10 years has decreased by 7 percent.

The Washington Archdiocese recently has encouraged parishes to mount a petition drive against new sex-education classes that will begin as pilot programs in three county public middle and high schools. Critics say the program teaches that homosexuality is not a choice.

State and archdiocese officials said Catholic schools also teach students about sexuality, but within the framework of Catholicism.

“We’re going to do it in the context of our faith and our church.” said Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, a Republican who went to Catholic schools and attended yesterday’s ceremony. “This school can play the role Catholic education has historically played in bringing education to an area where it is needed the most.”

The majority of the county’s 200,000 Catholics send their children to public schools, said archdiocese spokeswoman Susan Gibbs, adding that Catholic school students are taught about sex within the confines of marriage.

Parishioners of St. Patrick’s paid the $5 million cost of the 31,000-square-foot school at Norbeck and Muncaster Mill roads. The school now has 41 students and twice as many are expected to attend next year.

“I think it’s interesting that people are willing to pay $6,000 a year to have a religious element to their education,” said the Rev. Thomas A. Kane, the monsignor of the church who started the drive for a school about five years ago. “That’s the story really.”

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