Sister Maureen Lawrence McDermott, I.H.M., the principal of Bishop Shanahan High School in Downingtown for the past 14 years, has been named superintendent of secondary schools for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
The appointment becomes effective Oct. 1.
“Although our search for a new superintendent of secondary education broadened beyond our archdiocesan borders, it quickly became clear that our profile was matched right here in our own school system with a talented and proven leader who has served our schools well over the past four decades,” said Christopher Mominey, chief operating officer and secretary of Catholic education for the archdiocese.
Sister Maureen is herself a product of Catholic schools in the archdiocese, first at St. Gabriel’s in South Philadelphia, which was her initial encounter with the Immaculate Heart Sisters.
She continued at Archbishop Prendergast High School, then on to Immaculata College (now University), where she earned her Bachelor of Arts in English, and where she is now a member of the Board of Trustees.
It was in 1979, a year after graduating from Immaculata, that she made her final decision to enter religious life — with the Immaculate Heart Sisters, of course.
Her first teaching assignment, in 1982, was at St. Martin of Tours School in Philadelphia where she taught seventh grade, which is generally considered one of the most challenging classes to teach. She loved it.
Over 14 years she taught at several other schools including St. Madeleine-St. Rose School in Ridley Park, Bishop McDevitt High School in Wyncote and Villa Maria Academy in Malvern.
Continuing her own education, she earned a Master of Arts degree in English from West Chester University and a Ph.D. in Catholic educational leadership from Fordham University.
After a period as administrative intern and assistant principal, she was named principal at Bishop Shanahan in 2001. Now she will leave Shanahan to take up her new duties as leader of the archdiocese’s 17 high schools.
“Sister Maureen truly has a passion for education,” said Sister Lorraine Mulgrew, general superior for the Immaculate Heart Sisters. “Her enthusiasm for what educators can do to promote the faith and personal development of young people is well known. She will bring to this job a deep expertise in curriculum, joined with many background experiences in leadership which have been collaborative and creative.”
As for herself, “I will do the very best I can to continue to develop our teachers, our programs, our best educational strategies; also that every school will be the best it can be and meet the challenges in this generation,” Sister Maureen said.
She does think the challenges faced in this era are different than in past generations, when schools did not have the materials that are available today. On the other hand, today schools face much higher costs, which in turn impacts enrollment in nonpublic schools.
“The Faith in the Future Foundation and the Office for Catholic Education are working very hard to continue to build enrollment,” Sister Maureen said. “We are very lucky here in Pennsylvania to have tax credits that give businesses an opportunity to designate their tax money for a particular school or a particular education. That really is an assistance.”
Comparing schools of today with those of the past is difficult, she believes, because each generation faces the challenges of their own time. Today’s students, through their personal electronic devices, have learning tools available to them that would have been unavailable in the past in literally every area of learning, she notes.
“One of the things all of the schools work on is to teach students to work not only individually but collaboratively and use the optimum collective talents of the group,” she said. “That is what is really required in the workforce and it is important,” she said.
One difference from today and when Sister Maureen started teaching is the students “have much more sensitivity to the other person,” she said. “They are being taught more tolerance and they are more globally aware. I think the 21st-century tools are teaching them that.”
At the end of the day, what sets Catholic schools apart is “they are preparing the next generation of Catholic leaders; moral leaders, ethical leaders for the marketplace,” Sister Maureen said. “They leave with a core of both spirituality and ethics.”
Now that she has the task of overseeing education in the Catholic secondary schools of the archdiocese, she finds it very humbling, but she will really be doing in a new way what women religious have been doing in the Philadelphia Archdiocese in past generations.
“I stand on the shoulders of all of those past I.H.M. educators,” Sister Maureen said.