Fifth grader Fiona O’Connell cuts the ribbon on the renovated James Cardinal Hickey 
library at Mary of Nazareth School in Darnestown. Standing at left is Bishop Barry Knestout, who presided at the Oct. 1 ceremony, and behind him is Father Ray Fecteau, the pastor of neighboring Our Lady of the Visitation Parish, and behind him is Michael Friel, the school’s principal. Standing behind O’Connell is Nancy DeWitt, the school’s librarian. (CS photo by Jaclyn Lippelmann)
Fifth grader Fiona O’Connell cuts the ribbon on the renovated James Cardinal Hickey library at Mary of Nazareth School in Darnestown. Standing at left is Bishop Barry Knestout, who presided at the Oct. 1 ceremony, and behind him is Father Ray Fecteau, the pastor of neighboring Our Lady of the Visitation Parish, and behind him is Michael Friel, the school’s principal. Standing behind O’Connell is Nancy DeWitt, the school’s librarian. (CS photo by Jaclyn Lippelmann)
This past January’s polar vortex that partially froze Niagara Falls and caused a deep freeze in the Washington area, with temperatures near zero degrees, had a disastrous impact on Mary of Nazareth School in Darnestown, causing a pipe to burst, with water flooding a wing of the school.

“A sprinkler pipe (much larger that a regular copper pipe) in the attic burst, spewing thousands of gallons of water in the library wing – completely destroying our math room, chapel, sacristy and preschool – (and causing) extensive damage to the library, too,” said Michael Friel, the principal of Mary of Nazareth School.

On Oct. 1, water again spread through that wing, but this time, it was holy water sprinkled by Washington Auxiliary Bishop Barry Knestout, who blessed the new chapel and renovated rooms there on behalf of Cardinal Wuerl who was in Rome participating in the Synod on the Family.

That renovation marks a highlight of the 20th anniversary year of Mary of Nazareth School, a regional school in upper Montgomery County that was opened in 1994 by Cardinal James Hickey, then the archbishop of Washington.

 In a back to school letter to parents, Friel noted the “amazing transformation” that had taken place in the school’s wing. “The new school chapel is spacious, brightly lit and finely appointed. The chapel now seats 60 for Mass and is perfectly positioned for the school. Father Ray Fecteau (the pastor of nearby Our Lady of the Visitation) did an excellent job communicating and executing his vision for the space,” the principal said, also thanking the Tom and Glory Sullivan Foundation for awarding the school a grant for the chapel’s furnishings.

At the blessing, students representing each class sat in the chapel, joined by some parents, faculty, staff, board members, archdiocesan officials and other guests. “We ask the Lord to bless these new spaces we will use for prayer and study,” Bishop Knestout said.

In a reflection, the bishop noted the difference that a little light in a dark night can make. “So it is for our faith,” he said, encouraging the students to share their faith with others, which he said can “make all the difference in the world.”

Bishop Knestout then sprinkled holy water in the chapel and throughout the wing, noting that the water is “a sign of the saving waters of baptism.” He also blessed the renovated James Cardinal Hickey Library, named for the school’s founder whom he had served as a priest secretary. The bishop thanked all those who had made the school’s renovation possible, and he praised Mary of Nazareth School as “a wonderful example of a great Catholic school filled with faith, hope and love.”

At a reception following the blessing, Father Fecteau, the pastor of neighboring Our Lady of the Visitation Parish throughout the school’s existence, noted that the chapel more than doubled in size and can now accommodate both sections of students in the individual grades, so they can attend regular Masses together with their teachers. The new chapel is brighter and in more of a place of primacy in the school, he said.

Nancy DeWitt, the school’s librarian, said “the kids are enjoying the open space” of the renovated library.” January’s flood damaged the library’s carpet and flooring, which had to be replaced. Eighth grade students carried boxes of the library books into the Katie Fitzgerald Center, the school’s gymnasium and multi-purpose space, and later, student and parent volunteers spent two days re-shelving the books in the renovated library.

The restored media center next to the library includes 16 new touch-screen computers, thanks to a memorial donation from the Tucker family in the name of Don and Bee Heck.

­The renovated wing also includes two brand-new math rooms constructed to support the school’s math initiative for grades four through eight, and Mary of Nazareth’s preschool has been completely renovated.

In the back to school letter to parents, Friel also praised the school’s facilities director, Steve Munzer, who managed the renovation from the outset, assessing the damage and directing the clean-up with the help of a work crew for long hours right after the flood, and then overseeing the restoration work in the months that followed.