Our Story

Mission & Beliefs

Mission Statement

Our mission is to provide students an education rooted in the life of Christ and to foster the pursuit of excellence in the whole person.

Belief Statements

We believe that our Catholic high school is an evangelizing community of students, teachers, staff, and parents, providing our students an education rooted in the life of Christ and directed toward a personal relationship with Him.

We believe that our school is a great gift to our church and community, which carries out the mandate of teaching given to us by Christ to proclaim the gospel, and which celebrates the Catholic faith through worship and service to others.

We believe in the full development of the human person, including the spiritual, intellectual, social, emotional, and physical aspects of one's being. Commitment to academic excellence is an integral part of our identity as a Catholic school.

We believe that students learn best when they are actively engaged in the learning process, and when each student has appropriate opportunities for success.

We believe that student self-esteem is enhanced by positive relationships and mutual respect among and between students and faculty; that students thrive in a supportive yet stimulating climate which affirms the dignity of all persons; and that we are called to educate students of diverse economic, cultural, religious, racial, ethnic backgrounds and learning needs.

Our Philosophy

Philosophy and Goals

Bishop Denis J. O'Connell High School, a Catholic coeducational community of students, faculty, administrators, and staff, supports and complements the family, the parish and the larger community as each seeks to educate young people while challenging them to live the Gospel of Christ. The O'Connell community respects and values each member as one created in the image and likeness of God.

This educational community recognizes five dimensions of the person: spiritual, intellectual, social, emotional and physical. To encourage spiritual development, the administration, faculty, and staff work to provide an atmosphere of true Christ-like compassion and concern in which students may experience the Gospel message. This atmosphere allows the students to recognize themselves as personally redeemed by Christ and to generate a response rooted in knowledge and love and manifested in service.

Each faculty member provides quality academic instruction in order to inspire students with a love of learning and to give them knowledge and skill in specific disciplines. Each teacher presents to the students the opportunity to develop reason, to find truth, to express their thoughts clearly, and to be able to comprehend the development of ideas presented by others. The administration, faculty and staff strive to adapt this instruction to the intellectual needs of the individual students so that they may become more confident and therefore better prepared to face the challenges of society.

The school provides students with a variety of extra-curricular activities in order to help them become aware of their individual talents and limitations. These activities challenge students to contribute to the needs and spirit of the school and the community, making them more aware of their responsibilities to others. The students' emotional needs are met through the combined efforts of professional counselors and faculty. The students' physical needs are addressed by physical education, intramural, and inter-scholastic athletic programs.

Our History

Our History

With the post-World War II expansion of Arlington County came the unequivocal need for a parochial high school to serve the needs of families in Northern Virginia. To care for this need and, at the same time, honor an outstanding educator and seventh Bishop of Richmond, the late Most Rev. Denis J. O'Connell, six parish priests purchased a twenty-acre tract of land in 1949, and subsequently devised a plan for a fund drive that culminated in a ground-breaking ceremony on March 27, 1956. Sixteen months later, the school building which included a classroom wing for boys, a classroom wing for girls, and a center wing which housed the administration offices and facilities shared by boys and girls was completed.

On September 9, 1957, Bishop Denis J. O'Connell High School opened its doors as a co-institutional college preparatory school, admitting 360 ninth-graders from the six founding parishes: St. James, St. Thomas More, St. Ann, St. Charles, St. Agnes and St. John. Greeting the class of 1961 were Brothers of Christian Schools and Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM), who would guide their education.

Since then, Bishop O'Connell has prepared over 17,000 young men and women to play significant roles in our competitive and richly diverse world. Today, the school continues to serve the original six parishes as well as students from more than 80 different schools and parishes throughout the Washington D.C. metropolitan area.

Bishop O'Connell High School admits students of any race, color, national and ethnic origin. Preference in admission is given to applicants from Catholic parishes in the Diocese of Arlington and the Archdiocese of Washington.

Bishop O'Connell High School, ever mindful of parents' responsibility to see to the education of their children, was established by the Catholic Church to offer to parents a choice of education not then available to them. It is working to fulfill the Church's mission to spread the good news of the Gospel by bearing witness to the local community as a Catholic institution, by offering programs of religious instruction, liturgical celebration and other spiritual exercises, and by offering the best academic program possible, suffused by these moral and religious principles.

Our Vision

Our Vision

vision image

Bishop O’Connell High School will be known as the Catholic, co-educational college preparatory high school that fosters academic excellence and educates the whole person within a supportive environment that helps students grow in their Faith and emphasizes service to others. Bishop O'Connell will distinguish itself through innovations in STEM fields, global studies enrichment opportunities and university partnerships that enable students to extend their horizons as they prepare for college and beyond.

Elements of Our Vision

A Distinguishing Catholic Spirituality Supporting the Development of the Whole Person

Bishop O’Connell’s commitment to the development of the whole person—mind, body and soul—flows from its unique identity as a Catholic school. Bishop O’Connell is large enough to offer a wide array of experiences to students, but small enough to ensure a personalized experience for each student. From the availability of the sacraments made possible by the presence of a full-time Chaplain, to the focus on their individual development offered by classroom teachers, counselors and coaches, students at Bishop O’Connell benefit from the school’s commitment to the whole child. This dedication is reflected beyond the classroom by the way that the school’s mission is supported in extracurricular activities from fine arts, to athletics, to student clubs. A commitment to helping students grow in virtue permeates the entire experience of a student at Bishop O’Connell.

The centrality of our Catholic identity in what we do is reflected in the integration of Faith into all aspects of the curriculum and extra-curricular activities. The main characteristic of that spiritual identity is devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, exemplified best by the presence at the school, since its inception, of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary whose witness to our students reflects Mary’s motherly care for all so that all might be led to know and love Jesus Christ. Those who work with and learn from the Sisters see in the simplicity of their lives, the warmth of their hospitality to others, and the humility with which they live their commitment to vocation a wonderful example of the Christian life. Other educators grow from their example and students learn service, dedication, persistence and integrity by having them as their teachers.

Academic Excellence with a Global Perspective

The academic program at Bishop O’Connell is distinguished by the way it balances an excellent grounding in the liberal arts with a dynamic curriculum that leverages alumni, parent and community networks and provides opportunities for students to further develop critical thinking, problem solving and collaboration skills. A superb faculty has built O’Connell’s reputation for excellence in the core subject areas and these same teachers are the innovators behind creative programs in science, engineering, and global studies among others. O’Connell’s academic partnership with Marymount University is helping students earn college credit while preparing them further for success in an ever-changing world.

Bishop O’Connell’s unique Global Studies Certificate Program allows students to explore global issues more deeply in the areas that interest them most: politics and law, health and environment, faith and humanitarian, arts and humanities, etc. As Bishop O’Connell grows this program beyond its current parameters, all students will gain essential skills for understanding, categorizing and analyzing global phenomena.

Accessible to All Seeking a Catholic Education

A Bishop O’Connell education is distinctive because of the diverse community of learners preparing for college here. O’Connell’s rich diversity is reflected both in race and ethnicity, as well as in geographic and socio-economic terms and in the many different life experiences that students have had before arriving at the school (military, diplomatic and international families among other experiences).

Bishop O’Connell also offers expanded services so that students with intellectual disabilities can have access to a Catholic education in an inclusive high school environment. This environment allows the student with disability to grow academically, socially and spiritually with their peers.

Bishop O’Connell has a long tradition of being a school with a strong sense of community where a respectful environment is fostered and maintained and where a spirit of encouragement exists. Students benefit from the rich diversity at the school as they develop problem solving and collaboration skills in and out of the classroom with their peers.

The history of Bishop O’Connell high school reflects a commitment to making Catholic education accessible for those who seek it for their children. Consistent with Catholic teaching, Bishop O’Connell’s approach to budgeting reflects a strong commitment to providing financial aid and keeping tuition manageable. Advancement efforts highlight the need for philanthropic giving to support this approach. Aware of this commitment and the rich diversity of the school, families seek the opportunity of a Bishop O’Connell education for their children.

Committed to Service

Bishop O’Connell stands out for the strength of its service programs. Building on the foundations of the annual school-wide service traditions like the soup drive for Christ House and Superdance for Cystic Fibrosis, the service culture at O’Connell permeates the curricular and extra-curricular fabric of the school and unites the student body. Students are enabled in their efforts to live their Faith at regular turns throughout the school year and during the summer. More than two dozen service oriented clubs provide countless hours of support locally, regionally, nationally and in the hemisphere. The Christian Service Coordinator’s role in linking students with opportunities to serve is fostered by school leadership such that service is widely integrated across the curricular and extra-curricular spectrum in the school. Students and parents alike recall fondly the transformative nature of their experiences being involved in service while enrolled at O’Connell.

Strategic Plan

Strategic Plan 2018-2023

Bishop Denis J. O'Connell High School was founded in 1957 by the Diocese of Richmond (which at the time included Arlington and Northern Virginia) as a Catholic, co-educational, college-preparatory high school. O'Connell has evolved over the past 60 years to meet the changing needs of its diverse student body and the community it serves. Although O'Connell as an educational institution continues to change, the mission of the school remains the same: to provide an education rooted in the life of Christ and to foster the pursuit of excellence in the whole person.

This five-year strategic plan for the period from 2018-2023, developed by the Strategic Planning and Marketing Committee of the Board of Governors and approved by the full Board, is designed to help guide the leadership of the school in the accomplishment of the mission and to be an essential document for sharing the strategic direction of the school with all stakeholders.

The process used to develop this plan began with an analysis of the current Strategic Plan to understand what was accomplished during the last measuring period, what progress still needed to be made, and what could be added to further the mission of our great school. Numerous interviews with faculty, alumni, Diocesan employees, and other stakeholders of the school helped to reveal what they believe is important about O'Connell: the quality of education, the development of the Catholic faith and instruction in Church teachings, and the spirited, supportive community the school displays. The various interviews conducted, as well as developments in the world at large, inspired a deliberate effort in the drafting of this document to sharpen further the school's focus on its Catholic identity.

In short, the Strategic Plan attempts to preserve what is best about the school while striving to improve the O'Connell experience in line with our mission. Detailed tactical plans for achieving and measuring each goal are outlined in a separate document. The plan is divided into four areas: The O'Connell Experience, Facility, Funding, and Communication.

I. The O'Connell Experience

A. Student Experience Goals

O'Connell will deliver an unrivaled academic experience that integrates our Catholic mission across the curriculum and is reflected in the culture of the school.

Students will learn the core teachings of the Catholic Church through a theology curriculum designed to impart and reinforce the 6 dimensions of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (US CCB) Doctrinal Elements of a Curriculum Framework for the Development of Catechetical Materials for Young People of High School Age.

Students will learn the Catholic Church's teachings on the Dignity of the Human Person, Grace of Catholic Community, Using Faith as a Guide, and Living Faith in the World by encountering these themes throughout the entire four year curriculum.

Students will experience a consistent quality curriculum that will improve their writing, research, and presentation skills to facilitate their success in college and beyond.

Students will receive individualized support from school counselors to help encourage the development of the whole person.

Students will be pleased with the attention and advocacy their counselors give to supporting their search for an excellent college experience.

Students will have rich learning experiences that expose them to future career options, create global awareness, showcase leaders in the local business community and differentiate O'Connell from other high schools.

Students will choose electives from a robust yet curated catalog of appealing courses aligned with the school's mission.

Students will graduate understanding how to appropriately use technology to support research, writing, and collaborative work in order to prepare them for success in college and career.

Students will be provided with expanded opportunities to deepen their faith through a rich variety of spiritual and service experiences outside the classroom.

Students will be both immersed in the school's traditions and further connected through new events, competitions, and experiences that foster school spirit.

B. Faculty Experience Goals

Bishop O'Connell will provide students with the highest quality Catholic, college-preparatory education by hiring, developing, and retaining teachers who are passionate about Catholic education, highly qualified, and driven to constantly improve. The faculty will demonstrate a desire to meet the educational needs of every student and provide a witness of Christian service.

Faculty will be recruited, mentored, and supported through a systematic process of "hiring and retaining for Mission."

Faculty at O'Connell will be provided additional opportunities to encourage their professional and religious growth.

Faculty will be provided with competitive compensation to ensure O'Connell continues to offer a fulfilling experience that attracts and retains the highest quality teachers committed to Catholic education.

Bishop O'Connell will foster a positive, collaborative learning culture among the educational team to create the best conditions for professional fulfillment and growth.

Family Experience Goals

Families at O'Connell will feel that they are part of a student-centered, faith-filled community, connected with and supported by the school.

The O'Connell family experience will include numerous opportunities to make connections with the school and with one another.

Bishop O'Connell will provide clear and timely communication to families in order for them to feel connected to the school.

O'Connell will continue to keep the cost of education as affordable as possible to all families seeking Catholic education.

The Alumni Experience

O'Connell alumni will demonstrate a sense of pride and connection to the school and will serve as advocates in furthering the mission and celebrating the accomplishments of the school.

Local alumni will be provided more opportunities to share their knowledge, experience , and talents with the students at O'Connell.

Alumni will be presented with opportunities to participate in school events in increasing numbers.

Alumni will be aware of current school happenings through use of all relevant communication channels.

II. Facility

The O'Connell facility will reflect the commitment of the Arlington Diocese and the entire O'Connell family (past, present, and future), providing a stellar Catholic education guided by the Christ-centered mission of the school.

Phases 1 and 2 of Master Facility Plan, augmented by the chapel project, will be completed on this timeline:

  • Demolish old Convent in Summer 2018
  • Develop pedestrian plaza and other prep work during 18-19 school year
  • Complete new entrance and main corridor in summer 2019
  • Build new wing and chapel during 19-20 school year
  • Memorialize the IHM history in the school

Bishop O'Connell will explore ways to finance the original Trinidad wing renovation in micro-phases beginning in 2021.

Bishop O'Connell will use environmentally conscious architecture, demolition, and construction practices to the greatest extent possible.

Bishop O'Connell will ensure that the daily maintenance and presentation of the school reflects the excellence of the Catholic education experience transpiring within its walls.

Bishop O'Connell will continue to ensure the learning environment provides for the physical, mental, and emotional safety and well-being of all students.

III. Funding

Funding for O'Connell will reflect recognition for current and recent successes, as well as optimism for the future of the school.

The Bishop O'Connell Advancement Office, toward the goal of ensuring that the immediate and longer term financial needs of the school are met, will:

  • Increase the school's endowment to $1,000,000 by 2020
  • Grow unrestricted giving to the Knight Fund in this way:
  • $ 750K unrestricted giving to the Knight Fund by 2020
  • $ 1M unrestricted giving to the Knight Fund by 2025
  • Increase the percentage of alumni who participate in annual giving from less than 3% to more than 5% by 2020.
  • Market planned giving strategies more successfully

The school leadership team, working with the Board of Governors, will explore pilot programs with local sending parishes that offer financial incentives to families that send their children to Bishop O'Connell for high school.

Bishop O'Connell will achieve and maintain enrollment of 1200-1250.

IV. Communicating Our Mission

The uniqueness and the value of the history, traditions, and forward-thinking approach to Catholic secondary education will be shared with the community.

Strategies will be developed to communicate the distinctive advantages of an O'Connell education, and make the O'Connell mission known to the community it serves.

The content and tone of all communications will be respectful of all community members while reflecting the core values and mission of the Church.

All communications will utilize media channels most preferred by target audiences.

Catholic Education Honor Roll

Cardinal Newman Award

Bishop O’Connell Named to the Catholic Education Honor Roll

March 14, 2018 - Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, Va. was recognized this week by the Cardinal Newman Society as one of the 2018-2023 Catholic Education Honor Roll Schools. This is the second time that the school has earned this recognition, having been awarded the distinction in 2014. The national Honor Roll program has recognized over 300 high-performing Catholic high schools nationwide since the program’s inception in 2004.

Bishop O’Connell engaged in a thorough internal and external review of its comprehensive program offerings before being awarded this status. It has received specific recognition for its strong integration of Catholic identity throughout its efforts, including the integrity of its mission, and the strength of its community and rich spiritual live. The Honor Roll also recognized the school’s efforts at integral formation of the minds, bodies, and spirits of its students as well as its comprehensive academic program which seeks to instill a Christian vision of the world and human wisdom and culture.

“The Honor Roll is a helpful tool for families and benefactors in recognizing the quality of a Catholic high school,” said Patrick J. Reilly, president of The Cardinal Newman Society. “It is external validation that a school is both focused and successful in meeting the high calling of Catholic schools to serve the well-being and salvation of students and to serve the common good.”

Dr. Denise Donohue, coordinator of the Honor Roll, stated, “We are very pleased to have Bishop O’Connell join in the nationally recognized ranks of excellence; this is a select group. The school has well demonstrated they are successful in meeting the key principles that guide Catholic education.”

Bishop O’Connell’s head of school, Dr. Joseph Vorbach remarked, “This Honor Roll recognition from the Cardinal Newman Society is a welcome affirmation of our daily commitment to our Catholic mission. We are blessed with an incredibly dedicated team at the school, and I am very pleased to see their efforts to help our students grow in Faith and knowledge endorsed in this way.”


Catholic Identity Not by Accident - Sep. 1, 2017

More information on the Catholic Education Honor Roll is available at cardinalnewmansociety.org.

Principles of Catholic Identity in Education