All are welcome: Finding a home at Mount St. Joseph

[Catholic Review] All are welcome: Finding a home at Mount St. Joseph

When the Christmas break ended, Ory Docal didn’t need to be dragged out of bed to get ready for school like a typical teenager.

His mother said the 15-year-old was awake, dressed in his blazer and tie at 3 a.m., eagerly ready to start his school day at Mount St. Joseph High School.

That is the kind of spirit and enthusiasm the student with Down syndrome has infused into the Irvington school as it restarts a program for students with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities.

Brion Townshend, director of special programs at Mount St. Joseph, describes Ory as a “blessing to the school.”

Michael Stromberg, a theology teacher, fist-bumps Ory Docal, a student at Mount St. Joseph High School. (Courtesy Joseph Schuberth/Mount St. Joseph High School)

Ory started his freshman year in the fall, and by all accounts is flourishing, thanks to a partnership with the Catholic Coalition for Special Education, which supports special education in the Baltimore and Washington archdioceses through grants and technical assistance.

“His energy and enthusiasm are incredible,” Townshend said. “He’s like a celebrity. He walks down the hall and all of the students are fist-bumping him.”

Ory’s parents, Debbie and Orlando Docal, describe their association with Mount St. Joseph as a “mutual admiration society.” The couple, residents of Glenwood in Howard County and parishioners of St. Louis in Clarksville, said they wanted the same Catholic-school experience for Ory as the one experienced by their three older daughters, who all attended St. Louis and then Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in Olney.

“There’s nothing like a Catholic education, having Christ as the center of the school day,” said Debbie Docal, a graduate of St. Vincent Pallotti in Laurel.

Attending a Catholic high school is a natural progression for Ory, who in 2016 with Kathryn Roswag started attending St. Louis School, thanks to a collaboration between the school and CCSE.  A grant from the CCSE allowed St. Louis to establish The Louis IX Program, allowing the school to hire additional staff members to meet the students’ needs.

When Good Counsel, his father’s alma mater, wasn’t an option for Ory for high school, the family turned to Mount St. Joseph with help again from CCSE.

Ory attends classes with his peers, works out with the freshmen basketball team and has become ingrained in almost every social fabric of the school. He works with an aid, Tim Schenk, who adapts the curriculum to Ory’s needs.

Ory said the favorite parts of his school day are “helping Mr. Schenk coach the (freshmen) basketball team,” going to classes and playing Kahoot in theology class.

“I like seeing all my friends and making them laugh,” Ory said.

Ory Docal, front, a student at Mount St. Joseph High School, has flourished with his freshman classmates. (Courtesy Joseph Schuberth/Mount St. Joseph High School)

Debbie Docal said the school has been extremely supportive. “In some ways, we’ve been sort of working it out as we go, but Mount St. Joe has gone above and beyond,” Debbie Docal said. “The teachers have all been great. For instance, in a class they’ll find a book that more suits Ory’s reading level.”

Mount St. Joseph is using its seed grant from CCSE to revitalize its St. Giles Program, which it developed 14 years ago but hasn’t used recently since it didn’t have a student enrolled that needed the program. 

Ory is working toward earning a certificate to prepare for life after high school.

“We wanted Mount St. Joe to be a launching pad for whatever his future holds,” Orlando Docal, an accountant, said. “We’d like to see him make lifelong friends and have a place where he feels comfortable.”

Mount St. Joseph President George Andrews said Ory’s presence has bolstered the school’s fellowship.

“We’re all different, learn differently and have different God-given talents,” Andrews said. “As a school, we want to be open to all students who want to be a part of our brotherhood. We want our school to look like the real world with all of its differences, gifts and talents. That’s our strength as a community.

“Ory has a great personality,” said Andrews, who taught at the school from 1987-1998 and has been president for the past 11 years. “He’s very engaging. He’s energetic and that enthusiasm is contagious to his classmates.”

Townshend, a 1990 Mount Saint Joseph graduate who has worked at the school for nearly two decades, also noticed the impact Ory has made on campus, cheering on the football team and making baskets with the school’s nationally ranked basketball team.

“Our goal for Ory is no different than for any other student,” Townshend said. “We want him to grow academically, socially and spiritually. The transition for Ory and our students has been phenomenal. Our students get as much out of it as Ory does. They benefit exponentially from his presence.”

Kathy Dempsey, a communications and advocacy consultant with CCSE, said she was moved by her visit for the grant presentation at Mount St. Joseph.

“I just really felt the love for others and brotherhood, and the love for Ory,” Dempsey said.

To read more about CCSE, visit:

Schools that would like information on CCSE grants and the program should contact Francesca Pellegrino at 240-292-1438 or

Email Gerry Jackson at

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