Moments before performing the ribbon-cutting at St. Paul VI Catholic High School’s new Chantilly campus Aug. 27, Head of School Virginia Colwell reflected upon the journey that began when the school announced its move to Loudoun on June 4, 2015.
“Here we are, five years and 84 days later, and it has been a true experience, but we are now in what I consider our forever home,” Colwell said to a small crowd that included faculty, stakeholders and some of the school’s rising seniors.
PVI — among the “Top 50 Catholic high schools in the nation,” according to its website — had operated nearly 40 years out of the former Fairfax High School building in Fairfax City, its student population having since nearly tripled from 350 to approximately 1,000.
With 68 acres of land, more than 60 classrooms, eight labs, two gymnasiums and a large performing arts theatre that seats more than 700, the sizeable new campus is a notable upgrade from Paul VI’s previous premises.
Joining for the opening festivities was Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, whom Colwell called the school’s “biggest supporter, someone who has journeyed with us these past years as we have gotten ready to move into this gorgeous facility.”
“As I was driving here today, I was thanking the Lord for this great blessing, this great privilege, saying that I have to be one of the luckiest bishops in the country this year, to be blessing and opening a new high school,” Burbidge said. “It’s God’s grace and God’s help and divine assistance that has led us to this moment.”
He finished his remarks by addressing the students present.
“This is why the school exists — for you, to help you to grow in your relationship with the Lord and to experience excellence in education, and we are so proud of you, and we are so thankful, because of God’s goodness, we can give you this great gift.”
Superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Arlington Joseph E. Vorbach also spoke to the seniors, reminding them of their responsibility to “carve some initial tradition into this new building as the leaders of the school.”
Vorbach also commended the senior class for their enthusiastic involvement in the transition period.
“...you honored the traditions of your history, your past location. You took great care at each step to make this a really special experience, and now you sit here today to write the new chapters for your school,” he said.
PVI is allowing a maximum of 50 percent of students in the building at a time to start the year, while the rest are learning via livestream, alternating on a block schedule.
Fliers, floor decals and other materials reminding students to maintain safe social distance and utilize proper health mitigation strategies can be found throughout the building.
Still, limited capacity notwithstanding, Colwell couldn’t contain her back-to-school enthusiasm after she and Burbidge finally cut the ribbon, joking that she will “even take the drama in the hallways at this point.”
She also reminded listeners that more than 1,000 used rosaries had been buried in the new campus’s foundation during groundbreaking, making PVI quite literally “a school built on prayer.”