WASHINGTON — More than $36,000 has been raised for a Black Catholic school in DC, following vandalism and a break-in just ahead of the first day of classes in its 100th year.
Demitrius Hansford, 32, was arrested and charged on August 17 with theft and destruction of property. He is believed to have broken into St Anthony Catholic School, in the city’s Brookland neighborhood, on the preceding weekend before stealing $1,400 as well as various school equipment.
He is also believed to have been behind a separate incident at the school on August 11, wherein a bench was uprooted and a statue of the school’s patron, St Anthony of Padua, vandalized and beheaded.
A GoFundMe with a $25,000 goal was started on August 13 by Raquel Terry, a teacher at the school and parent of two of its students. She said the funds will be used for repairs and that “any additional funds will go towards beautifying the outdoor space and improved safety.”
The fundraiser is ongoing, and Terry said the school plans to make all necessary repairs before the first day of school on August 29. As of Friday afternoon, DC Police said they are still seeking leads as to the whereabouts of the severed statue’s head.
The school’s principal, Michael Thomasian, has called the incidents “a hate crime” and local media have reported that the case was being investigated as such by local law enforcement.
Though the PreK-8 school is roughly 90% Black, part of the Consortium of Catholic Academies serving inner-city students throughout the city, Thomasian believes the vandalism was anti-Catholic in nature.
“They destroyed a Blessed Mother statue, a statue of St. Joseph, and Advent candles,” he told Catholic News Service.
“That is [an attack on something] explicitly Catholic.”
According to Catholic Standard, the Archdiocese of Washington has faced a number of similar incidents in recent weeks, including an intentional water damage incident earlier this month and an arson attack on a parish in affluent Bethesda, Maryland in July.
In majority-minority Brookland, known for its various Catholic institutions, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception was targeted last winter with the defacing of a statue of Our Lady of Fatima on the church grounds.
St Anthony’s is one of the oldest Catholic institutions in the neighborhood, founded in 1922 to serve the neighborhood’s growing population. The adjoining parish, St Anthony Catholic Church, was founded in 1891.
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).