Goal Four: Justice

Goal Four: Justice

“Give me, O Lord, a love full of action.”
-Cornelia Connelly

Students in front of US Capitol

By Maureen Appel
Headmistress, 1994-2014

During the 60th anniversary year of Connelly School of the Holy Child, I am reminded of the many ways the school exemplified justice, peace, and compassion in both small and large ways. Holy Child students learn early on about the importance of helping others. A Holy Child student’s lifelong commitment to social responsibility is professed by the school’s founder Cornelia Connelly’s most famous quote, “Actions, not Words.” 

During my 20 years at Holy Child, I witnessed how both the faculty and students exhibited this commitment in the local community and on a global basis. Middle School Service Buddies continued the tradition of collecting food for Thanksgiving bags that were delivered to McKenna’s Wagon for distribution to families experiencing homelessness. One of the oldest clubs at Holy Child, Best Buddies hosted social events, such as the annual Halloween Costume Party and Winter Beach Party for children with intellectual and developmental differences. 

It always warmed my heart to witness alumnae return to campus to share their stories about the impact Holy Child had on them and to encourage students’ participation in service activities. One example is when alumna Wooly Devine ’79, her daughter Becky Ward ’14, and students Annie ’15 and Maggie ’13 Donatelli and their families traveled to Jamaica in February of 2011 on a home-building mission trip. Another is alumna Christie Anne Short ’96, whose work with impoverished Haitian children spurred the middle school students into action to help her with the “Butterflies for Haiti” project. The girls with their butterfly posters rallied their friends to collect toiletries and clothing for the children in Haiti.

The Holy Child community has always been a joyful, caring environment where students, faculty, and staff model the principles of justice, peace, and compassion in their daily lives. It was a blessing and a privilege to have served as Head of School.

Kelly Holcomb | Class of 2024

Connelly School of the Holy Child “works for Christian principles of justice, peace, and compassion in every facet of life. The Holy Child community, consisting of students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, and all others who support our school, work towards spreading justice, peace, and compassion not only throughout the community, but also outside the school. To me, justice means there is equality among all; Holy Child works hard to have justice present in their school by giving all their students the same opportunities no matter their race, ethnicity, economic status, sexual, or religious beliefs. Holy Child allows its students to understand the importance of justice for all people, so that when these young women graduate, they will highlight the dignity and interdependence of all people no matter their age, sex, race, nationality, culture, or religion.

Holy Child works to spread peace throughout our world by starting within our community and those around us. One way they do this is through talking about topics such as racial equality and feminine equality. All the young women at Holy Child are empowered by their teachers and fellow classmates around them, and peace starts with these students of Holy Child going out and spreading what they have learned. The students, faculty, and staff will often gather as a community in order to pray for peace in our nation and world. Holy Child addresses situations with a lack of peace in order to teach their students the true value and importance of peace between all people in our world.

Students with Holy Child flag

Finally, Holy Child works towards the spread of compassion for all people. The faculty and staff create an environment full of compassion and empathy for their students, as do students for their teachers and fellow classmates. All my teachers listen and talk to their students and make it known that they truly do care about us; the students know they can always go to any teacher or classmate about any problem they have whether it be academically or personally. I remember one day I had gotten bad news from home and was under a lot of stress. One of my teachers noticed and personally talked to me just to make sure I was okay. I realized after this that I was surrounded by so many people full of compassion that truly cared about me. I would not want to be part of any school community other than Holy Child. Connelly School of the Holy Child has truly filled its community with justice, peace, and compassion, and has taught me, along with many other young women, how to spread these values throughout our lives.

By Samantha Boccia | Class of 2016

Holy Child schools work for Christian principles of justice, peace, and compassion in every facet of life. In fulfilling this goal, Holy Child inspired me and all its students to pursue a life committed to social responsibility manifested through “Actions, not Words.” This motto transformed into a springboard for action when I started volunteering with the Georgetown University Prisons and Justice Initiative as an undergraduate. Through this program, I visited and learned alongside residents of the DC jail every week. While this experience exposed me to shocking material about the U.S. prison system, it more poignantly opened my eyes to the incredibly valuable people residing inside our prisons. These individuals are living testaments to the tragedy of mass incarceration, who treated me with the utmost respect and care, demonstrated rehabilitation, and deserved a second chance at freedom.

Galvanized by the motto ingrained in me at Holy Child, I felt compelled to not only speak out in support of criminal justice reform, but also to dedicate my life’s work to it. As a volunteer with the Frederick Douglass Project for Justice, I engage in conversations with residents of jails and prisons across the U.S. to inspire mutual compassion and empathy and spark personal and systemic transformation. With the Vera Institute of Justice’s Unlocking Potential Initiative, I also work to provide high-quality postsecondary education to prisoners by managing aspects of Vera’s accreditation projects. 

Studies show the transformative power of postsecondary education for prisoners, their loved ones, and their communities. Participation in postsecondary education decreases violence in prisons, increases post-release employability and earnings, and reduces recidivism. This ultimately enhances public safety, reduces criminal legal system expenditure, and encourages economic growth. 

In Matthew 25:37-40, the righteous ask Jesus, “When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?” and the Lord replies, “Truly, I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” As the ultimate embodiment of compassion, Jesus calls us to serve the most vulnerable among us: prisoners. Motivated by Holy Child’s call to “Actions, not Words” and Cornelia Connelly’s example to “not hide the gifts God has given, but use them in His service,” my work encourages a compassionate criminal justice system that honors the humanity of prisoners, whom we should love with the same unconditional fervor with which God loves each of us.       

Norah Brotons ’23 interviewed alumna Nicola Whitman ’91 about how Holy Child defined Justice for her and how it still plays an important role in her life today.

What was your interpretation of Justice and how has it changed since you graduated Holy Child?
I have always believed that representation is key to justice. This means diversity in all aspects of our judicial system including, for example, law enforcement, judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys. Since Holy Child, I have a greater appreciation of the importance of diversity and inclusion among legislators, their staffers, and lobbyists, as well. It is just as important to have representation among those making laws and impacting their development.

Do you use what you have learned about Justice in your everyday life?
I have been a big proponent of diversifying the lobbying and legal profession. It matters when there are diverse voices at the table.

Was there a particular moment where you witnessed injustice? How did you respond?
In the professional context, it is important to speak up when someone is being treated differently based on their race and/or gender. This is particularly important when one is in a supervisor role.

Do you have any advice for the current students (or other alumnae) of Holy Child about how they can act justly in the real world outside of Holy Child?  
Each of you has a voice that can and should be used to speak up against injustice in any form. You are all role models and can lead by example in how you live your lives, interact with others, or advocate on behalf of those whose voices might be temporarily muted.