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Private Virginia Academy Abandons Catholic Identity

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By Randy Sly
11/26/2008 (1 decade ago)
Catholic Online (https://www.catholic.org)

Notre Dame Academy, a private Catholic high school in Middleburg, Virginia will no longer consider themselves Catholic after July 1, 2009. The action by the Board of Trustees has brought about anger on the part of many parents and at least one lawsuit.

Highlights

By Randy Sly
Catholic Online (https://www.catholic.org)
11/26/2008 (1 decade ago)

Published in U.S.


WASHINGTON (Catholic Online) - Notre Dame Academy, located in Middleburg, Virginia, just outside of Washington, DC, describes itself as an "independent, Catholic, co-educational, college preparatory high school..." at least until now. Founded in 1965, the current Board of Trustees recently announced that school will not comply with the Diocese of Arlington's Policy 910, which requires that Catholic schools have a Catholic headmaster. The change will go into effect July 1, 2009.

Claiming that the Catholic requirement has hindered their search for a permanent head, the board sent an email to parents on October 10, 2008, stating that "any limiting criteria placed on the process has reduced our pool of potential candidates and has hindered our search."

Reportedly, the Chief Operating Officer of the Academy, Mr. Dan Dolan, who is a Catholic, had applied for the job but was ignored.

The Most Reverend Paul Loverde, Bishop of the Diocese of Arlington, where the academy is located, contacted the Chairman of the Board, Mr. Jim Atkins, on October 8, before the email had been sent. Atkins confirmed to the bishop that the board was resolute in their decision. In an open letter to the diocese, Bishop Loverde also indicated that Mr. Atkins further stated the Board of Trustees intends to amend the Articles of Incorporation for the school to delete the statement that it is a "Roman Catholic organization" functioning "in accordance with the traditions and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church."

The bishop informed Mr. Atkins he had no choice but to announce that Notre Dame would no longer be considered a Catholic School and would not be allowed to recruit in the elementary schools and parishes in the diocese.

"I am deeply disappointed that this formerly Catholic institution will no longer be counted among our Catholic schools," he stated, "and that families in the western part of our diocese who wish to provide a Catholic high school education for their children will lose one option for doing so. I am encouraged, however, by the ongoing commitment of so many in our diocese as we work to provide faithful, excellent Catholic education to as many children as possible."

The decision by the board will bring about a significant shift in identity for an educational institution that had an excellent reputation as a private Catholic school. "The Catholic mission of Notre Dame Academy is rooted in the Catholic principles upon which our school was founded.

Many parents are, not surprisingly, quite upset with the change. Diane Beauchamp, whose son Thomas is a freshman, told the Loudoun Times-Mirror, "We want a Catholic school. There are other schools out there that are private that are better academically, but I want that Catholic factor. I want my children to be balanced, and our Catholic faith is what really lays that foundation."

The October 10 email took parents, who had just paid approximately $18,000 in tuition, completely by surprise. While most will be leaving their students at the school for the current year, next year may be very different.

Some parents, however, are supportive, citing the difficulty in fundraising and staffing.

Catholic Online sought a comment from Dr. George Conway, the interim CEO at Notre Dame. He was not able to comment, due to pending litigation regarding the situation. A lawsuit against the Academy and the Board of Trustees has been filed by a former board member, Mr. Jim Wilson.

The suit asserts that Maggie Mangano, of The Frank Mangano Foundation, made a large donation to the Academy and, in return, was given seats on the board for herself and Foundation Treasurer, Michael Hoover. Further, the suit claims that Mangano promised not to change the mission of the school, but later did just that, encouraging other board members to move away from their Catholic identity.

Wilson told the Loudoun Times-Mirror, "In the loan agreement, she demanded seats on the board, which gave her control of the school, but the board felt it was an acceptable bargain on paper. The problem is you have no assurances that they're going to keep their promise. As soon as she got the school, she moved it from being Catholic."

Wilson also stated that those who disagreed with the new direction for the school resigned or were voted off the board. He lost his seat in an election held earlier in November.

While half of the school's enrollment is non-Catholic, the current board of 12 members has only one Catholic. The board was originally made up of 20 individuals with the requirement that at least 50% of the trustees be Catholic.

Notre Dame Academy was founded by the Sisters of Notre Dame of Chardon, Ohio, in 1965 and operated as a private, independent Catholic school. In 2000, the Sisters of Notre Dame sold the school to an independent Board of Trustees.

The board continued to operate in accordance with Canon 803 from the Code of Canon Law, which states that the Bishop as the person responsible for guaranteeing that the education provided at our Catholic schools is "based on the principles of Catholic doctrine" and that the teachers and curriculum uphold the teachings of the Church Catholic Schools. The diocese and the school had, until recently, enjoyed a very positive working relationship.

Specialists in Catholic education note that such dramatic shifts in orientation are not necessary to guarantee the future of private secondary education. They report that private Catholic academies have always been a part of a significant instructional tradition in America, and will continue be a part of Catholic education for years to come. They further cite schools such as St. Joseph's Catholic School in Greenville, SC, which maintains a strong community presence while remaining faithful to the authority, teachings, and ethos of the Catholic Faith.


Randy Sly is a communications specialist and Associate Editor for Catholic Online. A former Archbishop of the Charismatic Episcopal Church, he has served in full time Christian ministry for over 30 years. He and his wife Sandy came into the full communion of the Catholic Church three years ago.

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