John Biffl, a senior at St. Anselm’s Abbey School in Washington, has studied the violin for 14 years and is in his third year as concert master of his school orchestra.
John Biffl, a senior at St. Anselm’s Abbey School in Washington, has studied the violin for 14 years and is in his third year as concert master of his school orchestra.
John Biffl likes a challenge. The 17-year-old senior at St. Anselm's Abbey School in Washington is taking five advanced placement courses out of his seven-course schedule.

"I found the academics here (at St. Anselm's) to be unmatched," he said.

Ranking near the top of his class academically, Biffl is taking advanced placement classes in calculus, macro economics, music theory, literature and composition and physics. His course load is rounded out with classes in engineering and religion.

"My favorite class this year is physics - it moves at an extremely fast pace, but the information I am getting out of it is quite fascinating," he said.

He also noted that religion "is always an interesting class. This year we are going back to the beginning of Christianity and seeing how it developed into what it is today."

"Religion classes at St. Anselm's are so amazing because they are taught by so many people who know so much about the faith," he said. "You get to figure out the 'how' and 'why' it works."

Learning about the Catholic faith is one of the reasons Biffl's parents - Richard and Heidi Biffl of University Park - chose a Catholic education for their son.

"My parents felt it was a good idea to go to a Catholic school so that I could be better prepared for work in the outside world while maintaining my sense of morals and values," he said. "My parents wanted me to get the best possible start."

"Even if you are not Catholic, it is interesting" to attend a Catholic school, he said.

"Learning to understand why people believe the things they believe is incredibly interesting," he said. Catholic schools, he added, "teach you about your faith and 'why' you should believe, not just that you 'have' to believe."

Biffl's sister, Claire, is a student at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda. Both attended Holy Redeemer School in College Park prior to high school. Biffl still serves as an altar server at his parish on occasion.

In addition to his heavy course load, Biffl remains active in other pursuits.

He is an accomplished violinist, and is currently serving his third year as concert master of his school orchestra. Last year, he also performed in the pit orchestra for the school's production of "South Pacific." He has studied the violin since he was three years old.

While he has an eye to attend Princeton University next year to study engineering, Biffl said his talent in music has helped with his interest in science.

"A lot of musicians are interested in science and vice versa, because they are complimentary in terms of how they operate," he said. "I can memorize fact sheets very well because I have had 14 years of memorizing songs."

Biffl is also a member of the technical crew for St. Anselm's Priory Players. In that capacity, he is involved with set construction, lighting design, and operating the light board and the sound board. He is currently working an upcoming production of "The Music Man."

"I like it a lot," he said of his theater work. "Actors tend to be pretty crazy and they are fun to be around."

This year, he also serves as co-secretary general of St. Anselm's Model U.N. club and is running the club's website. He also runs cross country and is a member of the school's fencing team. Outside of school, he is a member of an ice hockey team that plays in College Park.

Biffl added that he enjoys the fact that the Benedictine-sponsored school "offers several options" for students to participate in celebrating their faith, including midday prayer with the monks in the abbey chapel and regularly scheduled Masses in the school chapel.

What he has learned in Catholic schools, he said, will serve him well later in life.

"I like to think I have a strong moral compass," Biffl said. " I like to think that I've learned to do what's right."