Saint John Paul the Great embraces change with new principal, programs

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With a new marching band, new radio broadcasting program, new lights on the field, and a new principal, Saint John Paul the Great Catholic High School in Dumfries, heads into its ninth year exhibiting the same energy and optimism that has come to define the school.

New at the helm is Dominican Sister Mary Veronica Keller, who replaces founding principal, Dominican Sister Mary Jordan Hoover. Sister Mary Veronica has strong roots in Virginia and the Arlington Diocese, having been a parishioner at St. Bernadette Church in Springfield, a graduate of James Madison University in Harrisonburg, and a teacher at Potomac High School in Dumfries, prior to joining the Congregation of St. Cecilia in Nashville in 1993.

"It's great to be back in Virginia, and a blessing to be selected to serve at John Paul the Great. I feel like I won the lottery," said Sister Mary Veronica during her first introduction to the school community in May at the celebration launching the new radio station and stadium lights. Months later, Sister Mary Veronica has relocated from Rhode Island, spent a few transitional weeks at school with Sister Mary Jordan, took some time for retreat with her community in Nashville, and hit the ground running preparing for the new school year.

Among the new projects Sister Mary Veronica and the school community are most excited about are the new radio broadcasting class and the formation of a marching band.

In August, music director Kelly Kingett hosted a summer band camp focused exclusively on marching band. "The idea has been with us for a while, and our band has been making appearances at games for a number of years, but now we are taking it to a whole new level by adding a marching show," said Kingett. "Will we look like Ohio State during our first game? Probably not, but we have a really talented group of musicians who are working hard and having fun."

Senior Cameron Shideler serves as drum major and will lead the band of approximately 75 students. "Cameron is doing a great job. He really inspires all the students," said Kingett.

The theme of the show this year is "Heroes through Time," and includes music from Ghostbusters and The Avengers. The Marching Wolves will be divided in two groups so that each band member only needs to play for two home games plus homecoming. By doing that, all home games will have a portion of the band in attendance, and homecoming will feature the whole band. "My guess," said Kingett, "is that once the band plays for the first home game, they will want to play for them all. It's just too much fun."

Kingett plans to add a color guard next year, and hopes funding will become available for the purchase of official marching band uniforms. Until then, their look will be more pep band than traditional band. "Formal marching band uniforms can cost upwards of $1,000 per student. It will take us some time to work up to that," said Kingett, "but with our talent and enthusiasm, I know we'll look great on the field under the new lights."

Band members and football players won't be the only students on the field if things go as planned. Students taking the new "Introduction to Broadcasting" class will be encouraged to report on happenings around the school and even call games, once basic skills and best practices have been established.

"The course will be theory and hands-on," said new faculty hire, Ashley Ackerman, "meaning students will learn about the history of radio, how radio works, as well as several projects where they will get to practice a variety of broadcasting formats including: news, sports and talk radio."

Eventually, quality student-produced content will be aired on WJPN 106.3FM, Home of the John Paul Nation, and live broadcasts are expected.

For now, WJPN is simulcasting EWTN Radio 24 hours a day. The mission of the broadcasting initiative is rooted in the desire to share the good news of Christ.

"In class we will definitely talk about radio as a tool for evangelization," said Ackerman. "We can look to Venerable Fulton J. Sheen and Mother Angelica as prime examples of modern day evangelists who had an impact on people's lives by sharing Christ over the air waves."

Inspiration also is drawn from the school's namesake, St. John Paul the Great, and from St. Dominic, founder of the Order of Preachers and patron of the Dominican Sisters.

The 750 students at the growing school can march forward with confidence. "With spiritual superstars watching out for us, and the dedicated efforts of our faculty and staff, there is every reason to believe that our ninth year will be the best yet," said Sister Mary Veronica.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016