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The latest news from Bishop O'Connell High School
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  • 05/11/18--08:58: A Capstone Few Weeks

    When I last wrote, I encouraged readers to attend a performance of Mary Poppins.  This remarkable performance was a capstone event for the O'Connell Players and it marked the beginning of a busy period of capstone student experiences over the past two weeks.  Mary Poppins was followed last weekend by the Festival of the Arts, an amazing opportunity to view the studio art of dozens of student artists while listening to student musical performances in three different venues.  I posted two examples of student artwork on my Twitter account (@J_Vorbach) last weekend -- remarkable!  Tonight there is an instrumental music concert at 7 p.m. in the auditorium, and next Friday a choral concert also at 7 p.m. in the auditorium.

    Seniors in the Global Studies Certificate program have been making their capstone presentations and it has been my privilege to serve as a panelist on a number of them.  These students are doing a remarkable job of synthesizing what they have learned from a variety of opportunities over the past three years.  I have been most impressed by hearing them speak about what they have learned about themselves because of the experiences.

    In athletics, the spring seasons have been wrapping up over the past two weeks.  As we head into this weekend, Softball (WCAC champs) and Boys Lacrosse (WCAC semifinalist) are heading into state tournaments and the Crew Team, fresh off some impressive performances on the Anacostia River last weekend, has opportunities for regional and national recognition over the next two weeks.  The track team, fresh off a great meet this past Wednesday, has state and WCAC meets still to come before the month is out.

    This week being Teacher Appreciation Week, we asked students to help us turn the spotlight on our teachers by sending "Shout Outs" to teachers they particularly appreciated.  A small sample shows us what students appreciate in their teachers -- reading these thoughtful, kind, mature and perceptive comments has been a beautiful and inspiring diversion throughout the week:

    “[He] always brightens everyone’s day and is there when any student needs help. He also puts others needs before his own and is one of the most selfless people I know. I am so glad I’ve been able to have him!!”

    "Everything you taught made such a big impact on my writing and my English career in general. When I was doing flash cards for my research paper this year I felt at ease because you pushed me last year. English last year is one class I know I’ll remember. Thank you.”

    “He genuinely cares about all of his students and wants them to succeed. Also, he is very dedicated to his job. He gets to school very early every morning to help students study and to answer their questions.”

    “You have been teaching me for so long, but I still think I learn something new in your class every day!”

    “She makes the content interesting, cares about us and our lives, and makes us prepared and better students.”

    "[He] is the anti-venom to the big, scary snake that is Pre-Calculus. By combining real-world examples with the subject being taught, he inspires his students in a vast amount of ways. Keep doing what you’re doing..."

    "His way of teaching and expression inspires students to try their hardest in his classroom..." 

    "I have grown to actually enjoy and understand math! This is a drastic change from previous years. I would like to thank you for making such a positive impact, and for your positive energy you bring to the O'Connell community. :)”

    "Her class is what gets me out of bed each morning to go to school. Thank you!!”

    "With her guidance, my writing has improved remarkably. I'm able to effectively convey my thoughts and, ultimately write more intelligent and interesting papers. She ignited my creativity, allowing me to develop a unique voice in my writing."

    "I particularly like that she uses group work sessions, and I feel I have grown considerably from the peer editing of the research papers."

    "She genuinely cares about her students and wants to not only make us better students, but also better people."

    “Because you are an amazing mentor and teacher…We appreciate all the time you dedicate to your students.”

    "He really helps every single one of his students to make sure they understand the material and get the grade they deserve in his class.”

    "I'm going to remember his class and teaching methods and use my study habits I've gotten from this class for the rest of my student life.”

    " the kindest person in the always there to help students."

    "I really respect how [she] adapts the classroom to fit student needs."

    "I have truly fallen in love with the subject due largely to the passion you exhibit for it during class."

    "...loves what he does and passes that passion on to his students."

    The amount of respect he has for all of his students cannot even be put into words.

    "Every single one of us feel like an important part of the class and feel like we belong there.  It is such a positive environment that nourishes so much spiritual growth and I am so blessed to get to be in it."

    "This class has helped me to become a better Catholic and I feel close to God.”

    "He taught way beyond the required amounts and had kids dig deeper and think outside the box. I'm so thankful I had him this year and I'll remember this class for the rest of my life."

     "The care you exhibit for your students is unparalleled, and I think that is the most special and valuable quality in a teacher. Nothing feels better than knowing that no matter what, you always have someone in your corner."

    “Thank you for encouraging me to push harder in everything I do."

    "Freshman year I didn’t really care about school in a lot of ways, but you definitely helped me overcome this."

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    It's 3:02 p.m. and the Class of 2018 just finished high school.  Yes, they have exams to take next week, but they are done with classes. They have signed each others shirts, put their college logos on their skorts and pants, and over the past few minutes have been celebrating with more than a little gusto with cheers and hugs for one another.  It is a great day to be a Knight, especially so for them.  We look forward to Baccalaureate Mass and breakfast on Sunday.

    A nice tradition of the recent past has been a panel of graduates coming back to share some wisdom about the college years with our seniors.  Thanks to Dr. Stabile, 30 grads came and participated in a discussion yesterday and throughout the day, and we had opportunities to hear what they are up to. When they are recent graduates who are recognized by current students, there are many nice moments of reconnecting.  Grads who are a little older come back with some work experience under their belts and reflect with faculty mentors on the most important takeaways from their time on Little Falls Road.  @oconnellhs and @J_Vorbach Twitter accounts have some photos of the alums we were pleased to welcome back.  While all this was happening, we also had three alum seminarians visiting religion classes, as well as award presentations of for artists, poets, and essayists.  It bears mentioning on that point that Mrs. Mary Lou Wentzel, retiring from Bishop O'Connell after 25 years at our school and 37 years as a teacher, has helped countless students achieve success in a variety of speaking and writing contests over the past 25 years.  At the end of any given year, students have accumulated as much as $20,000 in total prize money.  More importantly, they have gained confidence from putting their thoughts and ideas forward.  We will miss Mary Lou.

    At 3:17 p.m., Ms. Michelle Ladas came to my office and shared with me a copy of the 2018 yearbook and I have had a few minutes to flip through it.  The first place the book opened to was a spread on a summer 2017 trip to Peru.  The faces of our students who made that trip say it all -- the experience of having one's horizons widened, the blessing of the opportunity help others know of God's love for them, the sense of accomplishment for having made a difference in the lives of others, the spirited commitment to making a difference.

    The other take away from flipping through the yearbook is an awareness of how much has happened (anyone remember the solar eclipse of August 2017?), how much has been done, and how quickly the year has gone by.

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    Last week I wrote a little about how many O’Connell alumni we had back in the building to visit.  We had more visitors this week and it was a special privilege for me to travel to New London, Conn. for the 137th Commencement Exercises at the United States Coast Guard Academy. On the same field where I received my degree and commission on May 20, 1987, I was able to witness Tess Heimerman, DJO Class of 2013, and Gillian Gerton, DJO Class of 2014, receive their degrees and have their commissions handed to them by Vice President Pence during a beautiful sun-drenched ceremony

    Last night was a nice night for a cruise on the Potomac and our seniors took advantage, continuing a longstanding tradition of having a prom cruise.  Back at school, we had a meeting with our neighbors to share with them the latest updates about our campus improvement plans.  We are about two weeks away from receiving the county permit that will allow us to proceed with the demolition of the original convent, the first physical sign of our progress toward new classrooms, new chapel, new main entrance and new main corridor student common—all complete by August 2020.

    Next week will be a busy week as we come out of the long weekend and move into the activities of graduation week for the Class of 2018.  As we prepare for Commencement at the Shrine on Thursday, we'll also be holding elections for the class officers who will play critical leadership roles in the school next year.

    Readers of this blog know that I touched on Memorial Day a few weeks back.  As we enjoy the long weekend, let us also pause to remember all those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their country.

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    2018 State champions

    The dynasty is alive and well.

    Almost like a prize fighter, the O'Connell softball girls found themselves on the ropes at various points during the spring campaign, losing three of four games after spring break, not to mention surrendering nine runs to Elizabeth Seton and dropping a 14-13 decision at Riverdale Rec to the WCAC foe.

    Injuries threatened to derail what looked like a promising season, with All-American Kathryn Sandercock returning for her senior season. First, Sandercock underwent labrum surgery in her hip in October. Rehab and recovery were tougher than anticipated, although Sandercock worked her way through it.  Then, All-State shortstop Caitlin Jorae was restricted to a Designated Player role because of a torn labrum in her shoulder, limiting her to just hitting.  As if that wasn't enough, returning All-State catcher Meadow Sacadura suffered a broken hand in the fourth game of the season against Marshall.  Arguably, the team's top three talents were limited in what they could do all season.  None of the three were ever 100 percent healthy again.

    Yet, here they were – hosting the Virginia Independent Schools (VISAA) State Championship Game against rival Paul VI on Wednesday afternoon in Arlington at Tuckahoe Park.

    Through the years, Coach Tommy Orndorff has insisted what his girls do best is that they know how to win.  It's what they do!  Injuries aside and a brutal spring weather-wise, O'Connell's girls did what they do best:  they won – defeating Paul VI, 4-2, to win their 23rd State title in 25 years competing in the tournament.  Amazingly, the Knights record in State Tournament play is now 73-2.

    Sandercock was on her game, hurling a three-hitter and striking out 16 in notching the win, upping her record to 19-3 on the year.  Offensively, Madelynn Bates delivered the key blows – plating three runs on a double and staking the victors to a 3-0 lead in the first frame before roping a triple in the sixth inning and scoring moments later on a sacrifice fly to center by Lyndsay Flippin.  In essence, the sophomore standout was responsible for all four O'Connell runs.

    The dynasty is alive and well.

    Sandercock was named the VISAA Division I Softball Player of the Year, joining Jorae, Kiaris Alvarado-Rojas and Elizabeth Hoeymans as 1st Team All-State selections.  Sacadura was a 2nd Team honoree.



    Bishop O'Connell softball beats Paul VI, 4-2, in seventh straight VISAA title
    Washington Post, May 23, 2018

    O'Connell wins another WCAC softball crown
    Inside NOVA, May 6, 2018

    O'Connell's Tommy Orndorff retires as assistant athletic driector
    Arlington Catholic Herald, May 23, 2018

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  • 06/01/18--09:53: Graduation Moments

    Yesterday we held the 58th commencement exercises of Bishop O'Connell High School.  Continuing a more than three-decade long tradition, the ceremony was held at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, this year on the Feast of the Visitation.  It is a real blessing to our school community to be able to hold this important moment in our school calendar in this beautiful and sacred place. 

    Moments like Mr. Peter Kadeli conducting the chorus on the steps of the altar through a remarkable arrangement of the National Anthem, seniors Rosie Coolidge and Peter Lucas singing the Ave Maria from the ambo, and the moment when the seniors turn to face their families and receive a thunderous ovation from the sea of proud and happy loved ones filling the basilica, highlight what is special about a Catholic education at Bishop O'Connell.

    During my brief opportunity to welcome everyone to the exercises, I took a moment to recognize four retiring teachers who have given a combined total of more than 120 years of service to Bishop O’Connell – Mr. Bill Carpenter, Mrs. Patrice Connolly, Mr. Tommy Orndorff, and Mrs. Mary Lou Wentzel.  Their teaching, coaching, mentorship and prayerful support of O’Connell Knights over many decades is remarkable and deserved special mention at this, their last graduation ceremony.

    I also spoke to the graduates, reminding them that on their first day as freshmen, I told them they had already begun writing the next chapters of the school’s legacy and congratulating them on their long list of accomplishments that now inspires future Knights to think about a Bishop O’Connell experience because they want to reach, strive and accomplish as the Class of 2018 has. 

    It was a great day to be a Knight. 

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    Bishop O'Connell High School held its 58th commencement exercises at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, May 31. The Most Reverend Michael F. Burbidge, Bishop of the Diocese of Arlington, presented diplomas to the 233 members of the class of 2018.

    Jennifer Bigelow, Ed.D., Superintendent of Catholic Schools, addressed the graduates, sharing her own lessons from her high school to college transition, which didn't go as smoothly as most might have imagined. Reflecting on her missteps, she encouraged the class of 2018 to stay close to their faith during this time of many changes. She left them with a light-hearted quote from none other than Snoopy: "Be outrageously happy."  

    Caitlin Mea, the class salutatorian, looked back on the last four years, remembering many of the high points—from high achievements in the classroom to a record-setting Superdance and far beyond. Her reflections centered around a memorable quote from the spring musical, Mary Poppins: "Anything can happen if you let it. Life is out there waiting, so go and get it." She applauded her classmates for their willingness to do more every day, and encouraged them to continue their next chapter of life with the same gusto.

    Matthew Ehlers, the class valedictorian, used a quote from William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar to frame his remarks: "There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on the fortune; omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries..." He shared his personal journey through high school, where he embraced the tide and tried new ventures. Though it sometimes came with uncertainty, it nonetheless brought him to experiences he would have forever missed. "I encourage all of us soon-to-be graduates to open ourselves to our new and exciting futures and remember Shakespeare's lesson of seizing opportunities when presented with them."

    God Bless the Class of 2018!

    View photo highlights from graduation day below or at THIS LINK.


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    The Fine Arts Department is pleased to announce that two new teachers will be joining our music program next year: Ms. Kyra Klontz (Choral Teacher) and Mr. Timothy Lacrosse (Strings and Guitar Teacher). 

    Kyra Klontz, the new choral teacher, is a native of Arlington and is excited to be back in the area. Ms. Klontz holds a Bachelor of Music in choral music education and vocal performance, as well as a double minor in special education and musical theatre from Miami University in Oxford, OH.  She graduated summa cum laude with honors in December of 2017 and was recently awarded the "Outstanding Future Music Educator" honor for her graduating class.  While at Miami, Ms. Klontz was extremely active in Best Buddies, becoming president and director of an inclusive choir on her campus, that integrated adults with and without disabilities.  In addition, she participated in the MU Opera program each year, served as an undergraduate assistant and a student manager at the recreational center, and held leadership positions in two choral ensembles.  Ms. Klontz was selected to be student conductor of the MU Chamber Singers her senior year, and went on to student teach at Mason High School and Maple Dale Elementary in Cincinnati, OH.  After completing her student teaching, Ms. Klontz was most recently a long-term substitute in Arlington Public Schools, working as a choral director at Yorktown High School, Williamsburg Middle School, and Randolph Elementary School. Ms. Klontz helped prepare students for theDistrict XII Assessment, where they received only superior or excellent ratings.  She is active in the choral community, coming from a family of professional musicians and music educators.  Additionally, Ms. Klontz teaches private voice lessons and also enjoys work as a part-time group fitness instructor.

    Timothy Lacrosse, the new strings teacher, holds his Bachelor of Music degree in viola performance from the Juilliard School. He spent a year at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London studying orchestral training before obtaining his Master of Music from the Yale School of Music. He previously served as principal violist of the National Symphony of Panama, as well as section positions in the Huntsville Symphony, the Hawaii Symphony, and Fairfax Symphony, among others. He has performed in many of the world's prestigious  concert halls and festivals around the world, including Carnegie Hall, Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center Concert Hall, Chicago Symphony Center, Ravinia Festival, Walt Disney Concert Hall (Los Angeles), Barbican Center and Aldeburgh Festival in England, Lucerne Concert Hall (Switzerland), Gasteig Cultural Center and Konzerthaus Berlin in Germany, Auditorium Parco della Musica in Italy, and the Sydney Opera House in Australia. An avid educator, Mr. Lacrosse maintains a private studio of violin and viola students and has prepared students for auditions to the National Symphony Orchestra Youth Fellowship Program and American Youth Philharmonic, both of which he is an alumna.  He recently held the post of visiting professor of viola at the University of Panama, a position he held for four years. Recognizing the importance of arts education in public and private schools, he also performs and provides sectionals in Washington DC, Arlington and Fairfax County schools. 

    This is an exciting time for our program and we look forward to welcoming Ms. Klontz and Mr. Lacrosse into our arts community!  If you have any questions or would like to discuss registering for any of their classes, please contact Mrs. Maria McDonald, Department Chair ( 

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    Yesterday was an amazing day at Bishop O'Connell.


    Meet Finney the therapy dog.

    For the fourth year in a row, we held a one-day giving campaign to support our annual fund, the Knight Fund.  The response from the community was unbelievable as we raised over $136,000, thanks to all who participated including a generous group of matching donors.  In short, we blew through our initial $40,000 matching challenge and set new records for one day giving. Another impressive fact is that there were nearly 400 gifts made to the school, a number that beat our goal by 100.

    All of this made for a very exciting, productive and humbling day.  When we see the community rally around the school's mission as it did yesterday, it is inspiring to all of us who work here.  I was also inspired by the work of the advancement team and the many volunteers from our faculty and staff who helped generate energy for the cause yesterday.  They are passionate about the mission too and they shared that energy and commitment with the broader community yesterday.

    At the end of the day, we can do more and do it better for today's Knights because of strong support for the Knight Fund.  Every gift, regardless of amount, is a blessing to the school and we are very grateful.


    Our family dog, Salty, in 1984.

    While all this was going on, our students continued to get ready for their final assessments and our counselors arranged to bring in therapy dogs as part of a "laugh more, stress less" initiative before examinations.  When I wandered down to the courtyard, it was a treat to find a beautiful English springer spaniel named Finney.  This dog reminded me of my family's dog growing up, also an English springer named Salty, shown in this photo when he was about 12 in 1984.  I laughed more and stressed less for a few minutes.

    I was also really moved by the prayers service that Ms. Madden, Ms. Moynihan, Ms. Durdle and Mr. Shirey organized along with Student Council officers and some beautiful singing from Kiaris Alvarado Rojas.  The prayer service was a prayer for peace dedicated to the memory of those who lost their lives in the several school shootings that have occurred since Jan 1, 2018.

    And of course, as you may have heard, the Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history.  The whole DMV feels connected to this success on some level, including our state champion O'Connell Knights hockey team that is proud to practice at the same facility in Ballston where the Capitals practice.

    What a day!

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    Four Retirees

    Four long-time members of the Bishop O'Connell faculty retired at the end of the 2017-2018 school year, after a combined 123 years of service and dedication to our school community. Their contributions to the O'Connell story are legendary, and we wish them nothing but the best in their next endeavors!

    Bill Carpenter '76 (science teacher – 38 years) – Mr. Carpenter is one of three brothers who graduated from Bishop O'Connell High School. After studying biology and education at William & Mary, he returning to his alma mater to share his love for nature and wildlife with the newest generation of Knights. During his tenure, he also coached wrestling for 29 years, football for 22 years, and was even a substitute cross country coach for one year. His four children are also O'Connell alumni, graduating between 2001 and 2009. What's next for Mr. Carpenter? "I'm trying to figure out what I'm going to be when I grow up," he said. He hopes to be able to continue to travel and focus his energy on conservation and awareness of eco-systems in peril.

    I don't remember much from my high school days, but I do remember Mr. Carpenter's passion in the classroom as my biology teacher, and on the athletic fields. I appreciate your dedication and perseverance in having such a big impact on me and on so many lives over your 38 years. – Class of 1984 Alumnus

    Tommy Orndorff (assistant athletic director – 33 years) – Coach Orndorff is a graduate of West Virginia University, where he studied journalism. He began his career as a sports writer, before joining O'Connell as the communications/publications director and head softball coach in 1985. Since 1991, Orndorff has served as the school's assistant athletic director, meticulously managing all 27 teams' schedules and game day management. He is equally adept behind a camera, having masterfully captured student life during his tenure. Amassing more than 770 wins over his 33-year tenure at head coach of the Lady Knights softball team, he is only one of two travel coaches named to the Amateur Softball Association's Hall of Fame. "It has been a good run," Orndorff recently said to the Arlington Catholic Herald. "I love sports and athletics, and coaching softball. It's been the best of all worlds for me."

    Coach Orndorff made me want to work harder, play with more grit and value teammates. These are lessons I've carried with me through college, career, and with my family.   – Class of 1995 Alumna

    Patrice Connolly (religion teacher – 27 years) – Mrs. Connolly came to O'Connell as a 9th and 12th grade religion teacher in the fall of 1979, with the encouragement of Fr. Mark Pilon who was teaching religion at the time. Her name was Patrice Connelly when she arrived, but this is where she met her husband, Joe Connolly, who taught AP calculus and physics. They were married in 1982, and she only had to change one letter in her name! When their son was born in 1985, Mrs. Connolly became a stay-at-home mom, returning to the classroom in 1997. That fall her husband was diagnosed with cancer, passing away in early December after a 31-year career at the school. "The O'Connell community was incredibly supportive and we grieved together," said Mrs. Connolly. "Our son graduated from O'Connell in 2003, and this place has truly been a home to the Connollys!"

    Mrs. Connolly began as a 9th and 12th grade religion teacher, but eventually transitioned to teaching mostly juniors and seniors. During her career at O'Connell, she served as a student council and yearbook moderator, and even had a short stint as a freshman cheerleading coach. She has also served as a member of the school's talented photography team, working closely with Coach Orndorff to cover school activities with dedication and care. "It has been my great privilege to share the beauty and truth of the Catholic Faith with my students," she said. "One of my great joys has been teaching the sons and daughters, nephews and nieces of my former students. I thought it best to retire before their grandchildren started to enroll and lower my class load to my own grandchildren, ages 4, 3, and 1." She is looking forward to seeing what God has in store for this next phase of her life.

    I'll never forget the last day of Morality class, junior year, when Mrs. Connolly told us to close our books. She looked at us intently, and told us she taught us everything we needed to know to choose the good. We could never claim ignorance. I knew she was right and I felt the yoke of my faith, ever so gently, tethering me to our beloved a God and all His plans for me. – Class of 1982 Alumna

    Mary Lou Wentzel (English teacher – 25 years) – Mrs. Wentzel first became involved at Bishop O'Connell as a PTO volunteer during the time her three children attended the school. "After getting to know many of the teachers, students and their parents, I knew this was the school where I wanted to teach," she said. Unfortunately, there were no openings in the English department initially, so Mrs. Wentzel waited it out, teaching at Thomas Jefferson for two years before finding the position she wanted at Bishop O'Connell. She taught Freshman English as well as Public Speaking, and has been a dedicated mentor to scores of students over the years who have entered civic speech and essay contests, earning nearly $20,000 in scholarships and prize money.

    Mrs. Wentzel believed in my daughter, gave her the chance to challenge herself, became her mentor throughout--not to mention being her public speaking coach. Our daughter was honored and grateful to have her as her teacher, mentor, and someone she could confide in. – Class of 2019 Parent


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    Last Friday was the last day before teachers departed for the summer break. As is our tradition, we had a luncheon to wrap up the year and to send our retiring and departing teachers off with a proper salute. We took particular note of the service of Mr. Bill Carpenter, Mr. Tommy Orndorff, Mrs. Patrice Connolly and Mrs. Mary Lou Wentzel, and you can read my comments from the luncheon HERE.

    Inevitably, this last day feels abrupt to me because of how it creeps up even when I know it is coming. Its arrival is a reminder of missed opportunities to personally thank and congratulate teachers and students for services rendered to the school. I am also conscious of unfinished work on different initiatives. 

    At the same time, this "last day" is a first day. First day of well-earned vacation for teachers and students. First day to start major maintenance and repair projects. First day to get deeper into reflection and planning for next year, often fueled by professional development opportunities. 

    I look forward to sharing more with you in the coming weeks about, among other things, the convent demolition (which we will capture with time lapse photography) and our capital campaign progress, our summer improvement projects around the building, the kinds of professional development our team is engaged in this summer, and who will be joining our faculty as new members next year. 

    In the meantime, I thank you all for your interest in and support of Bishop O'Connell this year. As the DJO community demonstrated on June 7th's "OneDayAllKnights" event, it is a very engaged, spirited and generous group that the school is blessed to have behind it.

    Wishing everyone a blessed summer!