Royal engagement announcement brings attention to Catholic school

By Carol Zimmermann
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON – When the news broke 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.
 
"They've been scaling the walls," Communications Director Callie Webb said of the reporters calling and visiting the 112-year-old school just a few miles from the landmark Hollywood sign.

For two days, Webb received telephone calls and e-mails 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 until graduation.
 
ABC's "20/20" spent a day on the campus – with six of their vans parked on the school's ball field.
 
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 heard of Markle while 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.
 
The 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.
 
"She's 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.
 
Webb said Speier's reaction about the school's connection to the royal engagement is: "She is a sister who walked our hallways and was already inspiring."
 
And, that's pretty much how the school sees it.
 
"We've been proud of Meghan for a long time," said Webb of Markle's advocacy.

"That's very much in keeping with the goal of all our students," she told Catholic News Service, 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."

Webb 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."

Markle was chosen as a Kairos retreat leader during her senior year and took part in the school's theater productions – long before her role as Rachel Zane in the television drama "Suits."

"She has 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.

Immaculate 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.

She knows the media focus on the school is likely to wane, but for now, it has been great publicity.

She 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.

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