Sarah Brightman’s hit song entitled, “Time to Say Goodbye,” is a pop classic and today I find myself humming along to it as I ready myself for the final chapter in my role as superintendent and employee of the Diocese of San Jose. It didn’t occur to me when I was 22 years old and driving to Stamford, Connecticut that I was beginning a lifelong commitment to teaching. When you are 22 you think of a 5-year commitment as life-long. I do remember, however, a woman in the school I was assigned to had been in that school for 40 years and right then I decided, “No, not me.” I would not stay anywhere for 40 years!! Well, I have actually been in this area teaching for over 40 years! It all depends doesn’t it…. Life has such an interesting way of creeping up and taking over and all of a sudden … 38 years in one diocese.
I often wonder how I came to this life-long decision. Who influenced me? The stories in the gospels about children did make an impression on me. One example is the gospel of Mark, chapter 9. In this chapter the disciples are travelling to Galilee and arguing among themselves about who will be the greateSaint When they arrive to where Jesus is he asks them what they were arguing about and they are silent. But, he knows. And he says to them,
“If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” Taking a child, he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.”
These are powerful words and I am sure they had an impact on me as I was choosing my path those many years ago.
That decision to teach took me from my home in Portsmouth, New Hampshire to Stamford, Connecticut; Ansbach, Germany, the San Francisco Archdiocese, Stonegate public school in San Jose, Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Los Gatos, Saint Justin, Saint Clare and finally here to the Chancery in the Diocese of San Jose (DSJ). Putting those places on paper recalls so many wonderful faces and fond memories. I was so fortunate in each place to carve out some very special relationships with colleagues, students and families. This began my journey with children as my guide.
A few highlights come to mind…
- My first day in my first grade class at Roxbury School in Stamford, Conn.
- Riding the train to Rothenburg in Germany with 28 first graders and my English – Deutsch dictionary in hand
- Heading the Cinco de Mayo celebration at Stonegate School in San Jose because my last name sounded Hispanic and I was junior on the faculty
- Participating in the first year of school busing in Stamford, Connecticut where 60 black, inner city kids were dropped off at Roxbury School for an equitable education opportunity (it didn’t work)
- Participating in Yom Kippur and Rosh Hosannah Jewish holidays in Stamford
- Creating a Christmas bulletin board with Mary, Joseph, and Jesus in my public school
- Teaching grade 8 at Saint Robert’s Catholic School in San Bruno when there were still members of Monsignor Cilia’s family enrolled
- Being asked by parents if I had ever been a sister
- Bringing the student information system SCHOOLONE to the DSJ
- Inviting Cesar Chavez to Saint Justin School to launch the second phase of his “NO
- GRAPES” campaign just months before he died
- Guiding our Saint Clare second graders through a grieving process because their Santa Clara University (SCU) tutor, Deora Bodley, lost her life in the 9-11 attack in Shanksville, PA
- Being asked by parents if I ever entered religious life
- Sister Claude Power reminding me on a very difficult day as principal, “Even Jesus couldn’t get twelve”
- Steve Johnson and the Markkula Center for Ethics at SCU
- Partnering with Father Brendan and Bob Serventi on the Drexel Schools
- Being asked by parents if I had ever studied in the convent
- Loving each and every year of engagement with students
These are but a few of the many memories that I take with me as I leave my spacious office at 1150 North First Street, San Jose.
My work in Catholic education was nurtured by some very important women. The Sisters of Mercy educated me, and the Sisters of the Holy Name were my first employers in this area. Following these two important orders are: the Dominican Sisters of Oakford, Natal, South Africa, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, The Daughters of Charity, and the Presentation Sisters. These religious women are the shoulders upon whom I stood each and every day as I did my job. I am grateful to them all.
I am thankful for the pastors in our schools that welcomed me nine years ago, as Superintendent, and who have worked with me as we made the changes necessary to find new ways for the future of our Catholic elementary schools. I know it wasn’t always easy and sometimes we disagreed, however, we are a big church and we all follow the same good God. Thank you for these many years of support.
THANK YOU principals, pastors, priests, teachers, students, families and friends of Catholic schools for your generosity and hospitality to me for all these years. Whenever I am out and about in our Diocese people stop and tell me I look familiar, and when I ask them if they receive the Valley Catholic newspaper and they say, “YES” then I say I work with schools and they reply, “Oh YES,” you’re the superintendent, I know you from The Valley Catholic. When I renewed my license this past year, the woman at the DMV picture booth recognized me from the picture in The Valley Catholic.
Additionally, I am grateful for my long-suffering husband and children for allowing me to be absent from their lives because I was teaching other people’s children. In particular I am indebted to Ed for always listening, for attending so many dinners and events, and for being present to our children and grandchildren, because I was working. I am also indebted to my daughters for their kindness to me for having given them such a public last name.
Lastly, I want to thank Bishop McGrath for his unwavering support of my work as superintendent. He stood by my side in some very difficult situations as we closed schools. He listened to our ideas to create a lifeline for Catholic schools when other dioceses were closing schools without any lifeline. We did close some schools. We are not yet out of the woods, but we are working together to keep schools viable. Bishop McGrath brought a sense of humor and reality to my role in the Chancery. I am grateful I had the opportunity to serve him in our Diocese.
Children have been at the foundation of my work and so often in the gospels Jesus refers to children and uses them as examples of how to be closer to HIM. As I say my final good-bye join me in continuing to place our hope in the students in all of our schools in this diocese, pre-k through high schools. We look to them to provide a future world committed to our faith and service to all. Pray for them each day and for their teachers and parents. Catholic education is the gift that changes lives. Let’s be part of that change.