Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Return of the Sisters

In almost anyplace else, the appointment of an archdiocesan superintendent of schools would -- at best -- merit a blurb in the "Metro Briefs" column of the local paper.

But in the archdiocese of Chicago, the appointment of Dominican Sister Mary Paul McCaughey, a popular and successful high school president, as the new Schools Chief scored a full-blown press conference... and lots of ink.
A product of Chicago area Catholic schools, McCaughey said there is a "profound need'' for Catholic schools and she believes Chicago area parents are still willing to "sacrifice and invest'' in them.

"Our first job is to be what we say we are,'' she said at a news conference. "People will pay for that because, you know what? There's more to life than McMansions.''

On July 1, McCaughey will replace Nicholas Wolsonovich as head of the nation's second-largest Catholic school system. She will oversee 256 schools and 98,000 students in Lake and Cook counties.

McCaughey conceded that Catholic school can be expensive -- tuition and fees are $7,400 at Marian Catholic in Chicago Heights. She said Catholic schools might consider allowing "sliding scale'' tuitions, organizing work programs for kids and providing scholarships to help fill the financial gap.

"There's a million ways of doing it, and we'll unfold it later, when I take over in July, after I've had a chance to talk to schools,'' she said.

[Cardinal Francis] George called McCaughey the "outstanding president of one of our best Catholic high schools'' in announcing her selection. Her job is to raise achievement, help Catholic faith-based schools grow, and possibly even add some schools, he said.

A 1967 graduate of Marian Catholic, McCaughey was named both principal and president of Marian Catholic in 1992 and now serves as its president.

Under her helm, enrollment grew from about 1,500 to a peak of 1,675 four years ago, said Marian Catholic's principal, Sister Kathleen Tait. However, the school in the last few years "purposely restricted enrollment'' so it could reduce class size to 25 kids, Tait said.

Tait said that under McCaughey, the school saw a building boom, adding a new arts wing, gymnasium, college room, greenhouse, two science labs, a classroom addition and a leadership center.

"She's very articulate. She's very visionary. And she has an uncanny ability to bring people along toward her vision,'' Tait said.
McCaughey is the second woman religious tapped in recent months to succeed a layperson in overseeing one of the Stateside church's A-list school systems.

Last summer, Cardinal Edward Egan of New York named Resurrection Sr Marie Pappas as superintendent of Gotham's education empire, the nation's largest with 279 schools and well over 100,000 students. A 1011 veteran, Pappas succeeded Dr Catherine Hickey, arguably the best-known and most admired American Catholic educator of the age.

Once described by no less than the New York Times as "something like a gladiator," Dr Hickey remains the archdiocese's secretary for education -- a post once held by Egan himself.

PHOTO: John J. Kim/Chicago Sun-Times