Holy Trinity School Celebrates 200 Years of Service and Faith in Washington, D.C.

by Emma Restuccia, Catholic Standard

When students filed into their first day of school this fall at the oldest Catholic elementary school in Washington, D.C., Holy Trinity School, they began not just another regular school year, but the 200th anniversary of the school’s founding.  


Holy Trinity School was founded in 1818 as the Free School for Boys in a building purchased for $550. The school’s current buildings were built 100 years later in 1918, and the school became co-educational the same year. Throughout its two centuries, the school has educated students in St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Jesuit principles of service of faith, promotion of justice and academic excellence.

“St. Ignatius said, ‘Be a man for others,’” said Kevin McShane, principal of Holy Trinity School. “Of course nowadays we say ‘a person’ for others. On our fancy 200th anniversary t-shirts, it says ‘student for others.’”

Another Jesuit tradition is cura personalis — care of the person — a principle McShane said Holy Trinity practices in a particular way.

“That is a really nice way ... to remind ourselves that we are taking care of the whole child,” McShane said. “That includes their religious growth and spiritual growth, their academic growth, their social-emotional growth, all of it.”

Holy Trinity School has thrived for 200 years because of this unique Catholic Jesuit education, McShane said.

“The Gospel provides a starting point for us to engage with the world,” McShane said. “The longevity of the school is because that framework for engaging with the Gospel, engaging with Jesus ... resonates for people. The Jesuit framework for prayer and service to others resonates for so many people.”

Jesuit Father C. Kevin Gillespie, the pastor for Holy Trinity Parish and School, said the education system reflected at Holy Trinity goes back to 1548, when the Society of Jesus founded its first school in Sicily.  

“It begins with prayer,” such as the Daily Examen and Suscipe prayer of St. Ignatius, Fr. Gillespie said. “I have seen and listened to children at Holy Trinity do what is essential of what every Jesuit does.”

Fr. C. Kevin Gillespie, SJ, visits a classroom at Holy Trinity School.

This spiritual education, he said, is Jesuit, but it “is really connected to the church’s sacramental mission.”

“Our students learn to have a devout sacramental life ... that’s the devotion, but the education is prayer, learning and service,” Fr. Gillespie said.

At the opening school Mass, Fr.  Gillespie welcomed students to a new year, in which he urged them to let the Holy Spirit inspire their education and faith.

“Our year of celebration has begun,” he said.

“When we come together on these occasions, it is called a celebration,” McShane said at the Mass. “This is really the center of all we do here.”

The school has many festivities planned throughout the 200th year. A celebration weekend from Oct. 20 to 22 included a street fair and reunion of parents, students and alumni, a special Mass and reception, and a Golf and Tennis Classic. In March 2019, they'll have an Anniversary Benefit celebration, and in June, the school will have a service day, the Holy Trinity Power of One.

Karelia Pallan, director of communications and alumna of the school, said the Holy Trinity community is looking forward to commemorating this milestone.

“I’m just so proud to be part of this community [in which] the Jesuit values and tradition have continued for 200 years, and we want to have them continue for another 200 years,” she said.

A police officer visits the school in 1969.

Fr. Gillespie encouraged students to remain curious about “the history of your school and my school. Our school. What was it like in 1818?”

He said this year is “to commemorate not just the background of the facts, but also the stories, the beautiful stories.”

As one such story, Fr. Gillespie recalled his aunt — Sister Mary Ann Gillespie, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Philadelphia — who was principal of the school in the 1970s.

“This is also literally part of my family,” Fr. Gillespie said.

Reposted with permission from the Catholic Standard.

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