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The latest news from Bishop O'Connell High School
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  • 03/23/18--13:24: Remembering Father Pilon

    Last evening, I went to the wake of Father Mark Pilon, a priest of our Diocese who passed away this week after a difficult battle with cancer over the past few years.  I did not know Father Pilon well, but he was the Chaplain at O'Connell for part of my time as a student here in the early 1980s.  I remember him as a wise and serious-minded man.  Since my time returning to O'Connell, I learned from Father's friends in our community about his scholarship as a theologian and his work as a professor in the Seminary -- he taught our Chaplain, Father Thompson at Mount St. Mary's. Most recently, Father Pilon has been in residence at Christendom College in Front Royal.  The Arlington Catholic Herald headlined the ten years Father served as Pastor at St Ambrose parish. 

    Priests are called to be spiritual fathers to their parishioners and it is in that sense that their families are the parishioners (and students) they serve in their various assignments.  When they are called home to be with the Lord, as we all are at some point, the family that remembers them and prays for them is made up of people from the various assignments they have had over the course of their vocation.  This was certainly true last evening as families continued to arrive in a steady stream to pay their respects and to pray for Father.

    Obviously, we mourn whenever someone close to us passes from this life.  In calling attention to Father Pilon's passing, I wanted to bring to mind the special vocations of the priests and religious in our lives and highlight the importance of praying for them -- that we not take their service in our lives for granted.

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    New Orleans Music Festival AwardsCongratulations to the Bishop O'Connell music program who earned the top award at the Worldstrides New Orleans Heritage Festival music competition over the weekend.

    Their journey began on March 22, when 76 O'Connell students, 22 adult chaperones and one school chaplain headed to New Orleans. First on their jam-packed agenda was a lesson in Cajun cooking and the rich history of New Orleans. Friday morning students enjoyed beignets and coffee at the famous Cafe Du Monde followed by a private performance at Preservation Hall featuring some of the best Jazz music around. As a special treat, several members of the O'Connell contingent were able to join the Preservation Hall Jazz Band onstage. Ava Coffin sang "All of Me" and Audrey Somerville sang "At Last."  Band director, Mr. Ron Isaacson, also sat in on Trombone, playing "In a Mellow Tone" and 'jamming' on "Eb Twelve-Bar Blues."
    Saturday morning the choirs, bands, and orchestra headed to their music competitions. Each group performed on stage for a panel of collegiate judges and received written critiques as well as an on-stage clinic with one of the adjudicators. 

    Later that evening all of the schools from around the country gathered for a Masquerade ball where the results of the festival were announced. Each group was given a rating based on the score they received for various music performance elements. 65-79 Good "Bronze," 80-89 Excellent "Silver," and 90 – 100 Superior "Gold." 

    Choral Awards:
    O'Connell Singers in the "Women's Chorus" category - "Gold" – 2nd Place
    O'Connell Men's Chorus - "Gold"
    O'Connell Concert Choir - "Gold" – 2nd Place
    Andrew Oliveros - solo award
    Top Sweepstakes Choir Program Award

    Instrumental Music Awards:
    String Orchestra - "Gold" – 1st Place 
    DJO Jazz Band - "Silver"
    Audrey Somerville - vocal soloist award
    Danny Campbell - tenor sax soloist award
    Symphonic Band - "Silver"

    As the icing on the cake, the O'Connell music program (instrumental and choral combined) won the Grand Sweepstakes Award for the best music program at the festival, having earned the most 1st and 2nd place awards with the highest number of points (over 300). Due to their high level of performance excellence, all three choirs and the orchestra were invited to participate at Carnegie Hall next year.  Student Andrew Oliveros was recognized for student leadership.
    The trip closed Sunday with a celebration of Palm Sunday at Ignatius Chapel at Loyola University where our choir students sang with the chapel choir. The afternoon was spent at the Audubon Zoo, before catching a flight back home.

     "We are extremely proud of all of our students and the hard work they put into this festival," said choral director, Mr. Peter Kadeli. "Their success demonstrates the strength and high standard of excellence of our music program."

    "This group of students represented O'Connell so well, both on and off stage," added Mr. Isaacson.

    The music program is very grateful for Mr. Tim Coffin, Mrs. Laura Ryan, and the Fine Arts Booster for all of the hard work they put into planning this trip, and to the parents and staff members who helped chaperone the trip. 

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  • 04/13/18--10:14: Better Together

    I hope that everyone enjoyed a blessed Easter holiday.  As we end this week and the third quarter, the view out the window here on Little Falls Road looks like resurrection, rebirth, renewal...Spring.  I hope the rest of the spring sports season has many more days like this for our athletes to compete and our fans to enjoy.

    Below is a link to a wonderful video produced by Porto Charities that highlight's the great work that Porto does throughout the Diocese of Arlington and features students, parents and teachers from Bishop O'Connell. It tells a beautiful story in about five minutes and I encourage you to take the time to view it. 

    Watching it may also inspire you to join us at Bishop O'Connell tomorrow morning for our Better Together 5K and Kids Fun Run to support our Expanded Services.  You can still register at  Looks like it will be a nice morning and I promise it will be fun.

    If you can't see the video link above, it can be viewed at

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    Tommy Dannenfelser with Mr. Haas

    Tommy Dannenfelser with Mr. Greg Haas.

    Congratulations to O’Connell junior Tommy Dannenfelser, who was recently elected Youth Governor for the 2019 Virginia Model General Assembly (MGA).

    Tommy has been a part of the Bishop O’Connell MGA club for the past two years, taking the statewide conference by storm his sophomore year, where he played the role of a persistent investigative reporter. His hard work that year earned him a spot at the national conference—the Conference on National Affairs in Black Mountain, N.C.

    This year, Tommy served as a youth state senator during the three-day Virginia event in Richmond, where he debated and voted on bills while campaigning for next year’s highest office.

    Once again, he will join high school students from around the country as a Virginia delegate at the annual national youth conference in North Carolina in July. Before that, he will participate in a five day Youth Governors Conference in Washington, D.C., where he and 38 other state youth governors come together to learn more about leadership and government.

    Tommy is looking forward to his role as Virginia’s youth governor in 2019. He will have a chance to meet and chat with Virginia Governor Ralph Northam before he introduces him at the opening ceremonies of the Model General Assembly. As Youth Governor, Tommy will make an official address at the opening and closing ceremonies, meet with other high school delegates to discuss their bills, and make the final decision on all legislation. Before the MGA meets, he and his staff will review all bills.

    When he isn’t busy with his gubernatorial duties, Tommy is an active member of the O’Connell community. Right now he is back stage on the tech crew helping the O’Connell Players get ready for a “practically perfect” production of Mary Poppins. He is also involved in the school’s Hispanic Heritage Club and Haiti Action Community.

    “I could not be more proud of Tommy and all the members of the MGA club,” said Social Studies teacher and club moderator, Mr. Greg Haas. “They worked very hard and represented our school well.”

    “My experience at MGA has taught me how to express ideas effectively,” said Tommy. “At the same time, I’ve made friends with students throughout Virginia and around the nation.”

    All O’Connell students in grades 9 through 12 are invited to join the MGA club. Talk to Mr. Haas or Tommy to find out more!


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    Our students kicked off the 4th quarter with a busy first week.

    There was a brisk tempo of field trips early in the week -- opportunities that are developed by the extra efforts of teachers to bring classroom learning to life in more meaningful ways for students.

    As we get closer to graduation, seniors in the Global Studies Certificate Program have begun making their senior capstone presentations and I was privileged to sit in on two that were particularly thoughtful and insightful.

    The Global Studies Program is a rich one for students who get involved because of the way in which members of our community give of their time to enrich student learning. This week, Mr. John Hecklinger, the President and CEO of the Global Fund for Children and a member of the DJO class of 1988, spoke to students about the impact of his O'Connell Superdance experiences on the career path that brought him to his current role.

    The next day, retired Ambassador Peter Allgeier, former O'Connell board member and former Ambassador of the United States to the World Trade Organization, spoke to the Global Studies program about the current state of global trade.

    Today, thanks to the hard work of Father Thompson, Mr. Ed Fitzpatrick, Mrs. Cristy Rugo and a host of volunteer faculty and staff helped run the junior class retreat at Our Lady of Good Counsel parish in Vienna.  This is on the heals of the Kairos VI retreat attended by 45 juniors and seniors last weekend.

    This week also included a signing ceremony for student-athletes who will be continuing their athletic pursuits in college.  This is another special moment at the school when these distinguished athletes are surrounded by family, classmates and teammates as they celebrate a hard-earned moment.  At this particular event, the diversity of sports and institutions represented was noteworthy--from New England to Texas and places in between, O'Connell student-athletes have remarkable opportunities to continue competing as they prepare for what lies ahead in their lives.

    And as all this activity took place throughout the week, we continued to be humbled by the generous giving of time, talent and treasure that supports the mission of our school.  We can do what we do, carry on the rich traditions of this great school, and plan for its future because of this generosity.

    Wishing you all a wonderful weekend!

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  • 04/27/18--12:38: An Early Memorial Day Story

    Before I get into the story I want to share, let me begin by encouraging everyone to get out to the school this weekend to see Mary Poppins -- tonight or tomorrow at 7 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m.  With some experience as a father of student involved in theater, as well as ten years now seeing our students perform, I can tell you that it is an absolute treat to see young people realize the fruits of their significant labors by putting on a great production in front of an audience full of many family and friends. Seeing them enjoying well-deserved accolades in the lobby afterwards is the icing on the cake.

    Now to the early Memorial Day story:

    For the past several years, it has been my privilege to be part of a periodic gathering of retired and active military personnel, mostly Marines but the occasional Coast Guard retiree like myself.  The event is a simple dinner with a guest speaker.  At this time each year, the organizer revisits a particular story because April is the month that the person around whom the story centers died of his injuries after an heroic action for which he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

    When an insurgent rolled a grenade toward some of CPL Jason Dunham's fellow Marines, he took his Kevlar helmet and placed it over the grenade and then lay down over the helmet.  After surviving the battlefield and transport back to the United States through Germany, he succumbed to his injuries eight days after the incident.

    The organizer of the event I attended has been connected to CPL Dunham's family since the time of his injury and each year has coordinated a discussion about his ultimate sacrifice for his country.  Sometimes the discussion includes the opportunity to meet and hear from Michael Philips, the Wall Street Journal writer who wrote a book, The Gift of Valor, about CPL Dunham.  The event always includes an opportunity to speak by phone with CPL Dunham's parents.  

    Last night, when the organizer got CPL Dunham's parents on the phone, they were in a Chili's restaurant near the homeport of the USS Jason Dunham, an Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer.  They are the sponsors of the ship and they were having dinner with the Captain and the Command Master Chief.  In talking about her son, Mrs. Dunham shared stories about his humility and his desire, from a young age, to be of service to others.  She said that he had an "awesomely huge heart."

    As Memorial Day approaches, we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for the nation.  Many of these men and women did so when they were very young.  Having promised to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, and promising to obey the lawful orders of their superiors, they went forward willingly and proudly into harms way.


    Medal of Honor:

    USS Jason Dunham:

    Gift of Valor:

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    Kendall KeelenBishop O'Connell High School has named Kendall Keelen as the new head coach of the field hockey team.

    Coach Keelen is a New Jersey native. She enters her fourth-year at the George Washington University, where she studies International Affairs and Spanish. She is an active member of the GW Club Field Hockey team and plays a variety of defensive positions.

    Keelen began her field hockey career at age six, attending local clinics and playing in recreational leagues. She continued to play into high school and earned a starting spot on the varsity team. During the off season, she played with Jersey Intensity Field Hockey on indoor and summer teams. After high school, she moved down to Washington, D.C. to attend school and immediately joined the club team. Back home, Keelen plays in local women's leagues as well as runs youth clinics with her high school program. As a 15-year player of the sport, she is excited to bring her knowledge of and passion for the game to the field for a great season.

    Coach Keelen will be holding a parent/player interest meeting on Tuesday, May 8 at 6 p.m. in the school library. If you have any questions, please contact

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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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    West Point Society DC Awardees

    Two students from Bishop O'Connell High School were recently recognized for their outstanding performance on essay contests sponsored by the West Point Society of DC.

    Junior Jack Gradle (pictured on the left) attended the 2018 West Point Leadership and Ethics Conference and came home a winner! Jack, along with three other O'Connell students and Ms. Alicia Patak (counselor), participated in a day-long workshop held at George Mason University's Arlington campus on March 15. Approximately 250 11th grade students from 60 high schools across Virginia, Maryland and DC attended the event.

    "Jack distinguished himself during the full day of keynote speakers assemblies, classroom instruction and interaction and skit/vignette role play," said COL Charles T. "Chip" Sniffin (US Army, Retired) in a letter to the school. "As a result, he was one of 24 students selected to compete for the WPLEC scholarship via a post-conference essay contest."

    In late April, it was announced that Jack was one of six essay contest winners, and was awarded a scholarship prize.

    Sophomore Jackson Burnside (pictured on the right) participated in the 2018 West Point Leadership, Ethics and Diversity in STEM (LEADS) Workshop where he won first prize in the Honorable Living Essay Contest. Jackson was one of five O'Connell students who joined chaperones, Ms. Kathleen Riley (computer teacher) and Ms. Cynthia Germann (counselor), for the day-long seminar which was aimed at 6th through 10th grade students and was held at the MITRE Corporation in McLean.  Jackson's winning essay, entitled, "To Summit or Not to Summit," was a personal reflection on a leadership dilemma he faced while on a scouting trip. U.S. Congressman Gerald Connolly was on hand at the workshop to help present the award.

    "We participated in a series of small group activities at the workshop," said Jackson. "Through these sessions, I had the opportunity to hear from West Point cadets, as well as active and retired military officers, to get a real sense of what leadership training is all about."

    Congratulations to both of these O'Connell Knights!


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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.