Archdiocese of Washington’s newest archbishop, Wilton D. Gregory, paid a special visit to Sacred Heart Catholic Church in La Plata on Thursday as the celebrant of an opening Mass for Archbishop Neale School, helping students and staff kick off the 2019-20 school year.

“We were so thrilled. He seems to be very supportive of Catholic schools,” Principal Linda Bourne told the Maryland Independent during a follow-up interview. “We certainly have never had an archbishop come to celebrate a school Mass with us. The fact that he did that speaks a lot to his dedication to Catholic schools which we think is wonderful.”

Bourne said the excitement initially began over the summer when Gregory accepted an invitation to visit Archbishop Neale. A lot of students, especially the older ones, were once again thrilled to be in his presence as they really understood the importance of that office, according to Bourne.

“As a community, knowing that he was coming to our school meant a lot,” said Bourne, emphasizing that students only rehearsed once for the opening Mass which was the day before. “This year the theme is faith so we want students to really learn what that means. We have students that represent quite a few different faiths and while they might not participate in the sense that they go up for Communion and stuff, they certainly are learning about what the Catholic faith means. For the students that are Catholic, I hope this brings them closer to their faith.”

Gregory, the seventh and first-ever African American archbishop appointed to the Archdiocese of Washington by Pope Francis, was installed on May 21. He has served in many leading roles across the country to include serving as former president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and previously as chairman of the Bishops’ Committees on Divine Worship. Gregory even helped implement the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” after the Catholic clergy sex abuse crisis escalated, according to ADW’s website.

“To really be a faithful person is helping others,” Bourne said, “and that’s through service.”

During Thursday’s opening mass at Sacred Heart Church, Gregory gave a few remarks about the occasion and the importance of Mary, the Mother of God, in the Catholic faith as it relates to her role as mother to both Jesus Christ and the Catholic church as a whole.

“The church today reminds all of us that if we call on Mary, who is our mother, she will answer. We have a relationship with that one who, like every mother, is attentive to the needs of her children,” Gregory said before leading the communion. “We thank, in a very special way, Mary, our mother. The one who gave Christ to us; the one who loves us constantly.”

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