WASHINGTON (CNS) ─ St. Anthony Catholic School in Northeast Washington has been vandalized twice in less than a week in what the principal of the school is calling "a hate crime."
"When they tore up benches out front, that was vandalism," said principal Michael Thomasian. "When they destroy statues of St. Anthony and the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph -- that is (an attack on something) explicitly Catholic, and that is an act of hate."
On Aug. 11, school officials discovered that overnight vandals destroyed property outside of the church, toppling and decapitating the school's statue of St. Anthony, pulling up benches from the school playground and damaging a concrete windowsill. The head of the statue is still missing.
On Aug. 15, officials discovered that the school was vandalized yet again.
"This time they got into the building, I don't know how, but they did," Thomasian told the Catholic Standard, Washington's archdiocesan newspaper. "They vandalized my office. They destroyed a Blessed Mother statue, a statue of St. Joseph and Advent candles. They cleared out my desk drawers and took a camera and flash drives."
Thomasian called the vandalism "a desecration and a hate crime."
"It doesn't make any sense to me," Father Fred Close, pastor of St. Anthony Parish, said of the vandalism. "I don't understand the criminal mind, but in my opinion, this appears to be an irrational hatred of the good. I am just praying about it."
He added that "our first response has to be praise of God, and then prayers for the person or persons doing this."
Raquel Terry, a teacher at the school and parent of two St. Anthony students, created a GoFundMe page, to repair the damage and desecration.
"These spaces that were vandalized were created by the generous donations from school families and from the community for the community. Many neighborhood volunteers have put sweat equity into making our outdoor space inviting and welcoming for all," she wrote on the GoFundMe site.
"The playgrounds have always remained unlocked so that they are available for the neighborhood," she added. "This wasn't just a loss for our church and school, but truly a loss for the community."
In an interview with ABC affiliate WJLA Channel 7, Thomasian said, "I don't know what was in the perpetrator's mind, what was in his or her heart, but I see the vandalism, the desecration of something very special to us, and it just hurts to see it."
"Never has something explicitly religious been damaged and vandalized in this way," he said. "It's really a desecration. I don't know what the person was thinking or what led them to this, but it is an act of hate."
St. Anthony Catholic School, established in 1922, marks its 100th anniversary this year.
The damage at St. Anthony School, which was reported to the police, is the latest in a rash of vandalism at Catholic religious properties.
In July multiple fires were set inside St. Jane Frances de Chantal Church in the Washington suburb of Bethesda, maryland. The Stations of the Cross also were taken down from the walls and the tabernacle was broken open.
During the week of Aug. 8, vandals broke a window pane at another local Catholic church and put a running hose through it, covering the vestibule with water.
At the end of last year, a marble statue of Our Lady of Fatima on the grounds of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington was vandalized, with Mary's hands and nose cut off, her face scratched and the cross on her crown broken off.
The national shrine is located in the same Brookland neighborhood as St. Anthony of Padua School.
Last October, a swastika was found painted on a pillar at the parking lot of Annunciation Catholic Church in Northwest Washington.
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Szczepanowski is managing editor of the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.