Legacy of a Leader

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.

John Quincy Adams

One week ago, I attended the funeral of Sr. Mary Ellen O’Connell. She was my principal for 13 years, the principal I had worked with the longest during my long teaching career. Sister Mary Ellen was an amazing woman who continued her mercy mission until shortly before her passing at the age of 81.

Her viewing and funeral was a true testament to the impact she had on her teachers, staff, students, and parents. It was heartwarming to see so many former students and parents gather to celebrate her life. While there was some sadness and tears, there was also laughing and reminiscing.

She led with strength – she held her teachers to a very high standard and herself to a higher one while empowering her teachers to find and hone their own strengths.

She led with determination – spearheading a push into the world of technology, enlisting the help of parents to get projects completed while rolling up her sleeves to pitch in as well.

She led with balance – like a momma bear, she protected her faculty and students yet handed out corrective measures as needed.

She led with compassion – supporting teachers, students, and families in times of sorrow (and she had more than her share of opportunities to comfort and console),

She led with appreciation – never taking anything or anyone for granted but always taking the time to send a handwritten thank you note – often with a little gift that was just perfect for the receiver.

She led with joy – celebrating the accomplishments of her students – present and former and sharing in the happy life events of her teachers and staff – hosting parties at the convent.

She led by example – her Catholic faith was the most important thing in her life, and she helped all those she came in contact with to know God’s presence and His unending mercy.

The last time I saw Sr. Mary Ellen was in July of 2018 at a St Catherine of Siena faculty and staff reunion. It was a little shocking to see her come in using a walker with a portable oxygen tank, but that did not deter her. She sat and talked to each of us catching up on what we were doing as well as what our own children were doing. She asked about my children by name even though she hadn’t seen them in over 25 years. That was not unusual for Sr. Mary Ellen; she always remembered her former students by name!

Sr. Mary Ellen was a woman of honor and grace who dedicated her life to Catholic Education in a most unassuming and humble way. She will certainly be missed, but her legacy will live on through the countless number of people whom she inspired to “dream more, learn more, do more and become more.”

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