Principal's Note: I am both excited and proud to announce that Cardinal Gibbons is the cover story in Momentum Magazine, published by the National Catholic Educational Association. The piece celebrates both our storied 110-year history as well as the vision and inventiveness that feeds the collaboration, joy, and love of our educators, students, and parents. Along with our past, you will read about our innovations in education and the purchase of our retreat center as well as some plans for the future and how our mission of faith, service, and leadership transforms lives. I hope you enjoy the story. Check out the story in Momentum.
Outside Cardinal Gibbons High School’s retreat center in Smithfield, NC, the quiet of the morning is striking. The center is just a 45-minute drive from our high school’s campus in Raleigh, but it is a sanctuary from the bustle of the school and the busyness of life.
It is also the perfect home for our growing retreat program, which this year will increase its offerings by 100 percent to 50+ retreats. The school’s Board of Trustees realized Short Journey’s potential nearly two years ago when a for-sale sign adorned the historic center, then owned by the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh. In a bold move, the board, together with Jason D. Curtis, Gibbons’ principal from 2006-2019, bought Short Journey. In doing so, they ensured the school’s spiritual life would continue to be an equal partner with other programs like academics, athletics, and the arts. The question they asked was simple: Why shouldn’t we buy the center?
Agreeing with that assessment is the Most Rev. Luis Rafael Zarama, the Bishop of the Diocese of Raleigh. “At the heart of Cardinal Gibbons High School is its Catholic identity,” Bishop Zarama notes. “Its retreat program is central to this, and the Short Journey center expands opportunities for students to grow in their faith and further the school’s commitment to this important aspect of Catholic education.”
The purchase also makes Cardinal Gibbons one of the only high schools in the nation to own a retreat center. “Brilliant … an investment in the religious mission of Gibbons,” was one of many comments posted on Facebook after the purchase. Excitement about the possibilities the center, renamed Cardinal Gibbons Short Journey Retreat Center, portends for current and future generations, continues to grow, says Gibbons Retreat Directors Crista Anders and Tim Yelenic.
“The hope,” adds Yelenic, “is that every student and every educator at Cardinal Gibbons today as well as every tomorrow has the chance to attend a retreat at Short Journey, enhancing the already strong fellowship that exists within our community.”
In buying and renovating Short Journey, Cardinal Gibbons continues the center’s purpose and preserves its history. The acquisition also reflects how a 110-year-old diocesan school continuously seeks to be innovative and visionary. Indeed, the school is enhancing parts of its curriculum to make sure students are prepared for the 21st-century college experience and for life. It also plans to initiate a strategic planning process to guarantee it continues to blaze new trails when it comes to providing an outstanding Catholic education.
Still, Cardinal Gibbons stays true to its mission of forming men and women of faith, service, and leadership. Dr. Michael Fedewa, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Raleigh, concurs. He describes Cardinal Gibbons as “an essential ministry of the diocese, and one that excels in the execution of its mission.”
The school also remains connected to its storied past. More than a half-century ago, Cardinal Gibbons made headlines as the first high school in North Carolina to integrate.
For its anniversary, the school adopted the motto, embracing the past, shaping the future, and transforming lives through faith, service, and leadership. Today, Nancy A. Barkan, appointed the school’s principal last year, is the champion of that message and will continue to be as Cardinal Gibbons conducts a national search for a Head of School. An announcement is expected this month.
(The Cardinal Gibbons High School Board of Trustees and the Head of School Search Committee are pleased to announce the unanimous selection of Jeff Bell as Head of School. Bishop Luis Rafael Zarama accepted the Board’s recommendation and has appointed Jeff to the position effective July 1, 2020. Please visit www.cghsnc.org to read the full announcement.)
If there is one thing to recognize about Cardinal Gibbons, however, it is the significance of the last line of that motto. “We are transformed because Gibbons is family, and because Gibbons is our second home. We are also transformed through joy, through acts of service, and through love,” Barkan often says. “If we love one another as God loves us unconditionally, we will make the world a better place….”
That has been true since our founding in 1909. It is also what enables our thriving school of 1,500 to embody that intimate “everyone knows your name” feel.
Stroll through our Edwards Mill Road campus, our home since 1999, and our history is apparent. It is visible in photographs of the three earlier sites that housed our school. There are also pieces – yes, actual pieces – of the Western Blvd. campus, our third location. Its gym floor has been reinstalled here, and a chunk of the oak tree that once stood on that old campus has been reshaped into a cross that hangs in the front office.
These are visible signs that alert alumni who visit the school that they are, without a doubt, returning home.
The past also forms the foundation of what we call the “Gibbons Spirit.” It is that undefinable inventiveness that feeds the collaboration, joy, and love among our educators, students, and parents. They all want to be – and are – involved in making our school a special place where “with God, all things are possible.”
Making the seemingly impossible possible is a hallmark of Gibbons. It is one that has kept the school on what Tim Throndson, chair of the board of trustees, calls “an extraordinary trajectory for the last 20 years.”
Evidence of that is our nationally recognized model of technology integration and our formational athletics. It also is reflected in our outreach program, which provides opportunities for us “to use our God-given gifts in service to others,” says Gary Meyerl, ’82, director of outreach ministry. Last year that came to nearly 200 days of service.
That growth is why parents enjoy their own Gibbons experience, thanks to our unique parent engagement program. It is also why our students are interning at local companies, building robots, and securing six federal patents in various stages of approval.
As we come to the close of our 110th year, Barkan says, “we continue to envision shaping the future with our college-preparatory academic excellence.” Aligned with that are planned additions to the curriculum, like digital media, replete with Adobe Certified Associate (ACA) certification. There are also wellness initiatives that are expanding in our college counseling as well as health and physical education programs. These reflect our mission, which supports the development of the whole person in mind, body, and spirit. The future could also include capital improvements.
Throndson says the board will explore ways not only “to keep Cardinal Gibbons on the cutting edge of Catholic education,” but also toward even more significant accomplishments. “The best way to do that is to engage in a well thought out strategic planning process,” he notes.
Meanwhile, Short Journey is both a bridge to the school’s past and a springboard to its future. Many, especially alumni who attended retreats at the center when the diocese ran it from 1983-2016, wax nostalgic about their time there.
“Those walls have built friendships, heard stories of hardships, and mended wounds…I’ll always hold Short Journey in a special corner of my heart,” writes Gibbons graduate Brandon Burns, ‘13.
Educators and current students also embrace the center. “As a former youth minister … I have watched so many lives come to know Jesus at Short Journey,” notes theology educator Kim Dandurand. She and others say they are more than grateful the legacy is continuing just as Cardinal Gibbons looks to its next 110 years to transform lives through faith, service, and leadership.
Credits: (top) Azul Photography; (below) Dogwood Media