Located inside the lowland country on the southwest portion of the coastal Carolinas sits a majestic witness of strength and resilience. On a little known section of seaside land on Johns Island near the city of Charleston in South Carolina, visitors to this island are struck by an imposing figure known as The Angel Oak. This particular species of tree is a southern live oak which tends to grow more outward than upward. However, due to the age of The Angel Oak, its branches have grown in all directions, with some limbs driving underground and then emerging back up above the ground’s surface. At an age of approximately 500 years, The Angel Oak tree is thought to be one of the oldest living organisms east of the Mississippi River. In all its glory, the mighty oak stands 65 feet tall, 28 feet in circumference, with the largest branch reaching 187 feet. The wingspan of this massive species covers an area of 17,000 square feet. More to this point, its tentacular crown covers an area nearly the size of four adjoining professional size basketball courts.
While the size of The Angel Oak is certainly impressive, the most remarkable part of the of this prodigious natural structure can be found within its resilience. And as testimony to its historic power, its survival can be seen through 500 years of hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes. In fact, even though it was damaged by Hurricane Hugo in 1989, it miraculously recovered and continues to grow today.
As I reflect on significance of The Angel Oak that sits proudly atop John’s Island, I can’t help but recognize the striking resemblance that this iconic tree of the old south has with another iconic figure. As the fourth oldest elementary school in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, St. Agnes School has stood proudly atop the crown of Catonsville for the past 153 years. Amid financial recessions, national depressions and political, social and religious crises, St. Agnes School has shown its resilience and strength through the testament of 153 years of extraordinary students, successful alumni, selfless parents, generous benefactors, a supportive parish and talented teachers and staff. It is this latter group, whose commitment to nurturing the hearts, minds and souls of our young people, continue to inspire the next generation of parents to invest in the blessing of our Catholic school for their own child. Year after year, our gifted and faith-filled educators continue to seek ways in which to grow professionally. And as an example to this commitment, this year our school has partnered with the Academy of Catholic Educators (ACES) program at Notre Dame University. This professional organization works with teachers to analyze and apply standardized and supporting data aimed at developing and implementing the most effective instructional strategies for student learning. It is partnerships like the one we share with ACES that will enable St. Agnes to remain as a pillar of strength and resilience and provide a beacon of educational light to all who desire an excellent Catholic school.