Nine Rio Olympians Hail From This Catholic School Network

The alumni of the Sacred Heart Schools have made a splash at the 2016 Olympics, but have brought the schools’ Catholic values to other venues as well.

Top left to right, Anabelle Smith, Katie Ledecky, Lia Neal; bottom left to right, Erin Rafuse, Gaby Lopez, KK Clark.
Top left to right, Anabelle Smith, Katie Ledecky, Lia Neal; bottom left to right, Erin Rafuse, Gaby Lopez, KK Clark. (photo: Courtesy of Sacred Heart Schools)

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — Katie Ledecky, Lia Neal and Anabelle Smith are some names you might hear on television if you are watching the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

These Olympians have all won medals in the 2016 games, but they are also united by another common factor: their Catholic education.

Sacred Heart Schools, founded by the Society of the Sacred Heart, has more than 145 Catholic schools across the globe that have been teaching for over 200 years. These schools are also responsible for producing nine Olympic athletes who are competing in Rio.

“Our athletes recognize that their gifts comes from God and are not to be wasted,” the schools’ spokeswoman, Donna Heckler, told CNA.

“They are taught to take personal responsibility for themselves while being self-disciplined in their efforts,” she said.

After the first two days of competition, the Sacred Heart Olympians won four medals in Rio. Their alumnae are from four different countries and include Ledecky, Neal, Smith, KK Clark, Mary Joe Fenandez, Gaby Lopez, Gabi Nance, Erin Rafuse and Denise Sheldon.

So what’s the secret to producing all-stars?

While Heckler noted that the schools have no secret for producing Olympians, she did say that the school network “does have a secret to producing amazing people. That secret is seen in the five goals and criteria of the Sacred Heart Schools that bind the schools together.”

According to Heckler, the network of Sacred Heart Schools focuses on instilling five main goals in their students: a personal relationship with God, respect for intellectual values, social awareness and action, community building and personal growth.

“The goals and criteria, which are Sacred Heart educational principles, are foundational to this year’s dedicated Sacred Heart Olympians,” the schools’ news release stated.

The students who attend Sacred Heart Schools are fostered in self-discipline, accountability and responsible decision-making — all of which caters to producing a disciplined student and athlete.

“Students are taught to open themselves up to the transforming power of the Spirit of God and to explore their individual relationships to God, to self, to others and to all creation,” Heckler said.

The network of Sacred Heart Schools are run by the Sisters of the Society of the Sacred Heart. Although each individual school has its own history and character, they are all rooted in St. Madeleine Sophie Barat’s mission of challenging every student to be their “most authentic selves.”

The sisters love to see their students excel and are among the Sacred Heart Olympians’ biggest fans.

“The sisters love their students and see their hearts in all they do,” Heckler stated, saying that the sisters have the schedules of all of the Sacred Heart athletes and follow each of their events closely.   

Although the Sacred Heart students hold a special place in the sisters’ hearts, Heckler did say that the sisters pray for all of the athletes competing in Rio.

While the Sacred Heart Olympians are making a big splash at the Rio games this year, Heckler noted that all of their alumnae are bringing Catholic values to various outlets in the world.

“While today we are all celebrating the Olympic athletes, Sacred Heart alumni are making a difference throughout the world: in business, in journalism, in music, in education, in medicine, in justice and peace, in the arts, in service,” Heckler said.

“With a strong faith, commitment to others and value of community, Sacred Heart students bring these values to the world every day.”