By Carrie Gress

DUMFRIES, Virginia, AUG. 20, 2009 ( While many dioceses are shuttering and consolidating schools, the Diocese of Arlington has opened a new state-of-the-art high school with a special curriculum focused on bioethics.

Guided by Dominican sisters of St. Cecilia of Nashville, Tennessee, John Paul the Great High School is in its second year of operation after 13 years of planning.

Bishop Paul Loverde of the Diocese of Arlington said it was his conviction that Catholics need to be educated in the fullness of their faith that led him to put such a strong emphasis on bioethics into the new school's curriculum.

"[W]e must enable them to understand not only what the Church teaches, but also why she teaches what she teaches. There are many people who do not understand the Church’s teachings on life. Young people must be formed in the beauty of this teaching," the bishop explained.

Benedict XVI blessed the school's tabernacle during his visit to the United States in April 2008.

Joelle Santolla, director of communications for the Diocese of Arlington, revealed the story of how the tabernacle came to be a part of the school is itself a lesson in bioethics.

She explained that the school found the tabernacle in the trash. "Now refurbished," she added, "the tabernacle that sits in the chapel is the central focal point of the high school and serves as a reminder that many of the things our culture considers trash are truly the most precious, like the unborn child."

Named after John Paul II, who even the youngest students remember, the school is located within 10 miles of the first Catholic settlement in Virginia, dating back to 1647. "In God’s providence, it is wonderful that the school can be there," said Bishop Loverde.

Integrated curriculum

With the only curriculum of its kind at the high school level, students are given a strong dose of the philosophical principles that underpin the Church's teaching on the culture of life in a four-year comprehensive program.

The school's principal, Sister Mary Jordan Hoover, said that: "We are trying to frame the entire education around Jesus Christ and moral truth, as is reflected in the architecture with the chapel as the center of the campus.

"When you look at how quickly science has changed over the last 10 to 15 years, we can see that so many Catholics aren't able to keep up. So this is really 21st century education in terms of its approach because the philosophical principles are needed for people to understand the issues. We want to prepare [our students] to think clearly with the Church now and in the future."

With philosophical texts unique to the school, including one called "The Human Person" that covers such topics as human anthropology and John Paul II's teaching on the theology of the body, the students are learning. "Last year was our first take at it and it does work. Ninth graders can learn philosophy," acclaimed Sister Hoover.

In fact, the Dominican principal explained, the lessons taught at John Paul the Great are not just staying in the classroom, but are being brought home to the dinner table. "When students talk to their parents, the dialogue can really help the students and the parents to grow."

Opportunity for truth

Sister Hoover emphasized that the heresy of today is that "[o]ur children are being told 'it is your body, do whatever you want with it' and we need to give them the foundational philosophical principles to help them to seek the truth."

"It is not enough," she added, "to just say 'the Church says so,' but we need to explain to the students why. There is a desire to understand why that is on their hearts and by developing the curriculum that has philosophy as part of it, we are giving them the means to really explore the whys."

It is Bishop Loverde's hope that the graduates of John Paul the Great "will be articulate and faithful members of the Catholic Church, having been formed to participate in the life of the Church both in the parish and the diocese, but also responsible citizens and instruments for bringing about a new civilization of love rooted in the culture of life."

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