Cardinal Donald Wuerl greets Immaculate Heart of Mary sisters after a Sept. 29 Mass marking the opening the 60th anniversary year of Little Flower School in Bethesda. See related story on page 24.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl greets Immaculate Heart of Mary sisters after a Sept. 29 Mass marking the opening the 60th anniversary year of Little Flower School in Bethesda. See related story on page 24.
Organizers of the 60th anniversary of Little Flower School in Bethesda knew they wanted the milestone celebration to coincide with the Oct. 1 feast day of St. Therese of Lisieux - their patron saint. And they wanted to highlight recent improvements to the school but most of all, school officials wanted to be inclusive. "We've got to have a party with everybody and anybody," said Mary Eileen Morrissey, a parent and chair of the school's 60th anniversary committee. So they began contacting anyone who had ever been involved with the school.

The planning group soon realized the success of the school has been a result of building upon all that has come before - students, parents, teachers, parishioners and especially the dedication of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. "Their influence, their gentleness - training our kids how to treat each other," Morrissey said of the keys to a successful school.

The mother of five daughters, her youngest will graduate from eighth grade in the spring, also credited the parents of the school, citing over 90 percent of parent participation. Morrissey also said parishioners stepped right up to offer catering, music and photography services for the Mass and reception held Sept. 29. "All were very generous in donating their time and talent," Morrissey said.

For the principal of Little Flower School, the anniversary will set the tone for the entire school year. "It's wonderful to mark an anniversary," said Sister Rosemaron Rynn, a member of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the order which has staffed the elementary school since it opened in 1953.

Sister Rosemaron has served as principal since 1994 and in 2009 was named a National Distinguished Principal of the Year by the National Catholic Education Association.

In the anniversary book, Sister Rosemaron wrote, "The parish has nurtured my faith life and I have worked with and met many, many wonderful people and feel truly blessed to be part of such a wonderful community that truly supports and cares for one another."

Linda Kueter a Little Flower parent and administrative assistant, said the congregation's "influence transcends everything." Kueter noted there is a "prayerful atmosphere" at the school, which she appreciates as a parent.

Currently there are 270 students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade who are given a "strong sense of self," said Kueter. "They are being formed into the person they are meant to be."

Peter Hamm grew up in the parish and attended Little Flower for first through sixth grade. All 12 of his children attended Little Flower with his youngest currently in eighth grade. Hamm and his wife were married at the parish and had their wedding reception in the parish hall. He has served as an altar server, coach and scout leader.

Hamm said his children "took away a shared experience, a great education, respect for fellow students, respect for authority" from Little Flower. "It gives me great pleasure to know my kids have gone here," he added. Hamm's eldest daughter, Katherine Hamm is currently in formation with the Franciscan Sisters in New York City.

In addition to Katherine Hamm, Sister Rosmaron said she believes there are two other graduates who are serving as women religious and two former students who are priests. There is also a third former student currently in the seminary.

Eileen Rice is in her twelfth year as a reading resource teacher at Little Flower School. "I wanted to teach in a Catholic environment," said Rice, who also sent her two daughters to the school. "I greatly admire the commitment of the IHM Sisters," Rice said.

Sister Mary Ann Adams taught religion and social studies in the middle school for 33 years before retiring at the end of last year. "The heart of the school is the children," Sister Mary Ann said.

Her students completed a notebook in each seventh and eighth grade religion class that many used in high school and beyond. Sister Mary Ann said she found the elaborate notebook to be an effective tool for her students to integrate their faith with their relationship with Jesus. She said she hoped "someday they would save that for their children."

Dave and Karen's Heffernan's daughters would call home from college to ask for their notebooks, the parents recalled. "It's the one notebook neither of the girls have thrown away," said Dave Heffernan. He moved to the neighborhood as a small boy and attended Little Flower as well. His father James Heffernan also attended the anniversary Mass and said he and his wife wanted to give their children a Catholic education. Dave Heffernan said he recalls playing CYO football and enjoying mathematics those days.

For John Stodola, a graduate of the class of 1961, "this school gave me a good basic education - especially language skills."

Parishioner Tom Keon has two children at Little Flower School and serves on the School Advisory Board. The president of Ridgewells Catering said he and his wife wanted a Catholic school for their children. "It's not a private school - it's a parish school." He added the Little Flower School embodies the spirit of the parish by providing a wonderful education in a nurturing parish.

Deanne Ciatto has three daughters at Little Flower School and thinks it is wonderful they can see the women religious "modeling of faith." Through the sisters' example, students see others who are living lives committed to their faith, the mother added.

Sister Rachel Terry, 32, professed her final vows at Little Flower last April. The music director began serving at the school five years ago, immediately following three years of formation with her congregation. "This community is so special to me," Sister Rachael said. She writes: "The most meaningful thing that happened for me at Little Flower School was sharing my profession day with my IHM Sisters, my family and our wonderful school and parish community."

Sister Rita Mary Mayne has been teaching at Little Flower School for 32 years. The first grade teacher has four students this year who are children of former students. "It's such a thrill," Sister Rita Mary said of teaching a second generation of children. Throughout all the years and changes however, she maintains that the students have remained the same. "Basically children are children - they're so excited for learning."