ELSMERE — A desire to be back in a school building led Mary Elizabeth Muir to All Saints Catholic School in Elsmere, where she has become its second principal. Muir spent most of the summer at All Saints, meeting with teachers and welcoming potential new families.
She had been a teacher and principal at various schools until becoming the chief academic officer for the Independence Mission Schools, a group of 15 Catholic schools that serve urban youth in Philadelphia. (One of the schools is in Delaware County, Pa.) Muir supervised principals and oversaw curriculum and instruction at the school formerly run by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
“Running around to 15 schools is not a long-term job,” she said. “It’s very challenging, and so I knew that I had kind of done what I could.
“I had always said I was not a central office-type person because I really enjoy being with children. I was missing the joy factor that comes with that. I knew that I wanted to be grounded in one building.”
Muir, 52, spent 20 years in education as a member of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters, teaching in the dioceses of Brooklyn, Rockville Centre, N.Y., Harrisburg, Pa., and the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. She was a principal at two schools. She enjoyed the opportunity to move around.
“You really get a sense of what is really common about all of us, and there are lots of challenges that are very common, but you also get that unique flavor,” she said.
Muir is entering her fourth year outside of religious life. As communities evolve, she said, some have reacted by changing their focus. She was concerned the IHM Sisters had seemed to shift away from education, which is where her heart lies. But she is appreciative of her time with the community.
“I always say to people I am who I am. The best of who I am is because of my time in religious life,” Muir said. “I always reassure people it’s not like I had a crisis of faith or anything. My faith is as strong as it can be.”
STEM, religion, arts
At All Saints, she plans to improve upon the science, technology, engineering and math focus (STEM) by also emphasizing religion and the arts. She wants a formalized curriculum that builds from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade and for the educational path to be clear all the way through the school.
As is the case in many Catholic schools, enrollment also is an issue. She is encouraged by the commitment she received from the pastors of the five parishes that sponsor the school and says some funds are available for tuition assistance.
Muir also hopes to build more community at All Saints.
“We’re going to disagree. We’re going to struggle over things. But it’s important for me to do a lot of listening, to hear the many perspectives.”
A native of Philadelphia’s Main Line, she attended Western Maryland College (now McDaniel University). She has a doctoral degree from Immaculata University, and her dissertation topic was the viability of urban Catholic elementary schools from an administrative and financial perspective. Wilmington’s Diocesan Superintendent of Schools Lou De Angelo was on her dissertation committee.
Muir lives in Exton, Pa., and is a member of St. Elizabeth Parish there. In her spare time, she is a “crazy, voracious reader” and likes to hike. She also plays the trumpet, although “not very well.”
Muir feels All Saints is where she needs to be and is called to be. She described a “wonderful prayer experience” while discerning whether to accept this position.
“It was the weekend, and I was going to give a decision at the beginning of the next week. And so Sunday morning — I can’t even tell you what I was praying, what the Scripture was, nothing — all of a sudden I heard myself saying, ‘Oh, so this is what you’re preparing me to do. This was your plan all along.’ I needed the skills I learned from supervising principals to fine tune my own leadership, to be a more effective leader in a building.”