Three longtime education leaders in San Bernardino’s Catholic schools will retire at the close of the school year while Riverside’s Notre Dame High School will receive a new President.
Jim Brennan, President of Aquinas High School since 2010, will be retiring after 51 years in Catholic education, 23 of those in the Diocese. Meanwhile, Sue Long has announced her retirement after 18 years as Principal of Our Lady of the Assumption School. Another beloved leader in local Catholic schools, Madeleine Thomas, announced her retirement after 26 years as Principal of Resurrection Academy in Fontana.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame High School will return to the President-Principal leadership model with the naming of Ryan Johnston as President. RaeAnna Ashton remains Principal at Notre Dame.
In the President-Principal leadership model the President focuses on community relations, marketing, enrollment building and strategic vision while the Principal oversees academics and daily management of the school.
When Brennan came to Aquinas as president, the school was experiencing financial instability and enrollment declines that threatened to close it. He was a major force in the school’s turnaround that led to all-time highs in enrollment, technology advances and three major new building projects on campus.
Superintendent of Catholic Schools, Dr. Sam Torres, praised Brennan for his long-time commitment to Catholic schools.
“I thank him for his wisdom and leadership,” Dr. Torres said. “His value, ‘every family desiring a Catholic education for their children becomes his mission to fulfill.’ ”
Brennan served as Superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Diocese from 1998-2004. He also served as Principal of Sacred Heart School in Palm Desert from 2004-2008. The author of two books on Catholic education, he said he chose his vocation “to reach out to the youth and hope make Catholicity come alive to them.”
“We were given the opportunity to form the students in the light and truth of the Gospel and we did the best we could,” Brennan says of his time at Aquinas. “And the youth have responded well.”
Dr. Chris Barrows, Principal at Aquinas since 2011, will be the school’s new President. Assistant Principal Amanda Egan, a 2000 alumnus of Aquinas, will serve as Principal.
Sue Long has the distinction of having attended Our Lady of the Assumption School, taught there, and served as its principal.
“It has been my honor to be associated with Our Lady of the Assumption School throughout my life, from the moment I entered the doors as a six year-old first grader to my own eighth grade graduation in 1969 and those of my daughters, nieces, and nephews, to my retirement as Principal today,” Long said. “I thank the Sisters of Mercy and all those OLA teachers and families who made our school a reality and nurtured it to the present, and I look forward to the future, secure in the knowledge that the Lord has great plans for OLA School!”
The collaborative work of all the stakeholders in the life of OLA is what Long says she cherishes most about her time there.
“These teams, composed of faculty, parishioners, school families, donors, and neighbors seemed to be sent by the Holy Spirit at just the right times,” she says in reflection. “We have beautified the campus with a refurbished field, opened not one but two preschools, instituted a technology plan for the 21st Century, expanded the curriculum to address learning styles of a widely diverse student population, introduced the OLA STEM Center, ensured that security is a priority, and best of all, we have provided a nurturing Catholic learning environment in which our students develop as people of faith.”
Torres cited Long’s great energy as an inspiring force in her school community. Father Rogelio Gonzalez, Pastor of Our Lady of the Assumption, said Long’s personality made him feel “right at home immediately” when he arrived at the parish.
“We worked well, and together we almost resolved all the world’s issues,” Fr. Gonzalez quipped. “I know she will be missed; however, all her hard work is and will be reflected in today’s and tomorrow’s leaders.”
Patricia Godsey, sixth grade teacher and Junior High Religion teacher at OLA, will succeed Long as Principal.
Thomas arrived at Resurrection Academy in 1990, serving as first grade teacher for five years before becoming principal. A resourceful leader with strong community building skills, Thomas said her own formation in Catholic education strongly influenced her ministry as principal.
“I have been fortunate to be educated in Catholic schools from my elementary to my undergrad at the St. Louis Catholic system in the Philippines,” she says. “It instilled in me the importance of Catholic education, passing it forward, and serving in a Catholic school to keep the memories of the religious men and women alive and enjoy a fundamental way of life and getting paid for it.”
Thomas said she feels a sense of accomplishment for having instilled that same spirit in her staff, school parents and members of the parish and civic community, who have come to the aid of the school in difficult financial times. Torres agrees.
“Madeleine has created a sacred space where families are confident in bringing their children to have their faith be formed and be educated,” he said.
Jackie Swinehart, a teacher at Resurrection Academy since 2004, has been named the school’s new principal.