Tragedy highlights value of Catholic education for Marlborough student

Father Jonathan Gaspar congratulates seventh grader Loan Vuong at the Catholic Schools Week Mass at Immaculate Conception Parish in Marlborough. Pilot photo/ Courtesy Immaculate Conception School

MARLBOROUGH -- As in other Catholic schools in the archdiocese, students at Immaculate Conception School marked Catholic Schools Week last month by participating in an essay contest.

Like many, seventh grader Loan Vuong was encouraged to reflect on this year’s theme, “Catholic Schools Light the Way,” in writing on the importance of her Catholic education. However, in the last two years Loan has lived through an experience that many her age will never know and which brought the importance of her Catholic education into sharp focus. That appreciation shined through in her essay and brought it to the top of the pack.

In August, 2005, the Vuong family -- mother, father and six daughters -- were involved in a car accident in North Carolina that left the father and one sister dead. The remaining girls, two in high school and three at Immaculate Conception School, and their mother were distraught.

“The parish-school community responded with an amazing outpouring of love and support for all of them,” said Martha McCook, principal at Immaculate Conception Upper School.

“With the help of the Catholic Schools Foundation and our parish the girls have been able to continue their Catholic education, the thing Mrs. Vuong most worried about after Mr. Vuong’s death,” McCook stated.

Speaking from her heart, Loan wrote, “Catholic schools light the way because they direct us down a path of happiness, love and compassion.”

She went on to say that as a student in Catholic school she has learned that life is “not all fun and games” but it is about “loving God, helping others, being ourselves and being the best we can be.”

She has learned though her experiences that her school, friends and “parish community will always support and care for me during times of trouble,” Loan added.

“My years of going to Immaculate Conception have helped me become more devoted to my Catholic faith,” she continued. “Attending weekly Mass has helped me understand the importance of obedience and respect.”

Speaking from her school, Loan admitted winning “came as a surprise.”

“It was kind of like an honor for me to be picked from among all those students, because I sometimes am not that good at writing,” she said humbly.

“I guess I won because I really do love this school,” Loan said. “It’s part of who I am, and I like that we can just all act like ourselves around one another.”

“It is clear to us that Loan is an example of how a Catholic education can light the way even when things seem darkest,” McCook said. “With all the tragedy they have gone through, their faith has certainly sustained them.”

As the winner of the essay contest, Loan received a $50 gift certificate to Borders Bookstore and was asked to read the essay at the Catholic Schools Week Mass. In addition, her essay will be featured on the school’s Web site as well as in the school newsletter and parish bulletin.

“It was wonderful how well she was able to articulate the value Catholic education has had in her life,” said McCook.

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