Royal engagement announcement brings attention to Catholic school

IMAGE: CNS photo/Toby Melville, Reuters

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) — When the news broke Nov. 27 of Meghan Markle’s
engagement to Prince Harry, reporters descended upon the Los Angeles Catholic school
Markle attended: Immaculate Heart High School and Middle School.

been scaling the walls,” Callie Webb, communication director for the
school, said with slight exaggeration, but maybe not too much, of the reporters
calling and visiting the 112-year-old school with mission-style terra cotta
roofs just a few miles from the landmark Hollywood sign.

For two
days, Webb’s phone was ringing off the hook and her email mailbox was flooded with
requests from local newspapers and TV stations as well as national media and
British tabloids about the school’s famous fiancee — the 1999 graduate who is
not Catholic but attended the school from seventh grade (before the
sixth grade was added) until graduation.

ABC’s “20/20”
spent a day on the campus — with six of their vans parked on the school’s ball field
— for an episode airing Dec. 1.

The attention,
and the news itself, has been exciting for the school’s 674 students, Webb
said, pointing out that some of them had never even heard of Markle and others knew
every detail about her 15-month romance with Prince Harry, her engagement, her
TV career, activism and now discontinued lifestyle blog, The Tig.

school, founded by Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in 1906, tried to
put the engagement news in perspective, at least on social media. Its Nov. 27 tweet
said: “Over 10,000 women of great heart and right conscience have
graduated from Immaculate Heart, and we are proud to count actress and
humanitarian @meghanmarkle among them. Today, we send her our very best wishes
as she celebrates her engagement to His Royal Highness Prince Harry.”

It posted
a similar message that day on its Facebook account, but added that as a global
ambassador for World Vision Canada, Markle campaigned for clean, safe drinking
water. And as a UN Women’s Advocate, she has spoken up for women’s rights and
gender equality.

so inspirational to many of us, not just as an actress, but also as someone who
is into philanthropy and altruism and giving back,” the school’s student
body president Mia Speier
told KABC, the Los Angeles ABC affiliate.

said Speier’s reaction, that she has now often repeated, about the school’s
connection to the royal engagement is: “She is a sister who walked our
hallways and was already inspiring.”

that’s pretty much how the school sees it.

been proud of Meghan for a long time,” said Webb of Markle’s advocacy for
gender equality and clean drinking water and her work with the United Nations
as a women’s advocate for political participation and leadership.

very much in keeping with the goal of all our students,” she told Catholic
News Service Nov. 28, adding that it reflects the school’s mission, which “encourages
students to become women of great heart and right conscience through
leadership, service and a lifelong commitment to Christian values.”

also noted that Markle, 36, was exposed at an early age to helping others,
something that was reinforced at school with community service projects. “Her
upbringing meshed with the school’s mission and philosophy,” as she put

Markle was chosen as a Kairos retreat leader during her senior year and she took part in the
school’s theater productions — long before her role as Rachel Zane in the
television drama “Suits.”

gone from one stage to a bigger stage,” Webb added, noting that in “whatever
small way” the school contributed to her current achievements, it is proud.

Heart makes no mention of the royal engagement on its website. Instead, the school
news is about sports wins, charity drives, upcoming events and a 2007 graduate who
is featured in 2018 edition of Forbes “30 Under 30” — the magazine’s
list of 600 visionaries in 20 different industries.

pointed out the school has plenty on tap right now with its Dec. 2 open house
and ongoing visits from perspective freshmen during the school’s “shadow” days, where they shadow current students on a school day. She
knows the media focus on the school is likely to wane, for now, although it’s
been great publicity.

also continually hopes to reinforce the message that Immaculate Heart is
thrilled for Markle but not just for the wedding at England’s Windsor Castle when
the former student, described as a “classy girl” in the school’s
yearbook, will take on the title Duchess of Sussex.

always tell our students to dream big,” she said, “but not necessarily
about marrying a prince!”

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Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.

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