WILMINGTON — Jane Manley spent 30 years in Texas, the last 20 working in education. She left one of the biggest states in the union for the second-smallest, becoming the principal at St. Peter Cathedral School in Wilmington. And she’s happy to be in Delaware.
“I was at a point in my life where I really wanted to see, ‘OK, where do I see myself devoting my time and attention?’ The inner city was what I was looking for,” Manley said recently in her new office. “Here at the Cathedral School I am really excited because it meets a lot of what I am really interested in doing.
“Coming here, you have a population of people who are really interested in a Christian education, a Catholic education, and they love the fact that it’s a small school. I like that a lot. I think that’s important.”
St. Peter’s reminds her in a way of her previous school, a Christian institution in Tyler, a city of 105,000 in northeast Texas, about 100 miles from Dallas. She said most of the families there were blue-collar, and many of the students lived on farms, which is not the case at St. Peter’s. Manley was an assistant principal, and she taught fifth and sixth grade.
Prior to that, Manley worked at Bishop TK Gorman School in Tyler, where she filled multiple roles. She was the facilitator for the senior capstone project, oversaw community service, directed student services and college advising, and taught philosophy and ethics.
Her entry in Catholic education was not traditional. Manley had spent several years as an executive with Curves International, the fitness company that caters to women. She was the chief operating officer and a vice president, but she left in 2002. Two of her children were in Catholic school in Tyler, and one day, “I received a phone call out of the blue.”
“They said, ‘We’ve got to put everybody through health and speech this coming year. Are you doing anything? Could you do that?’ Well, I’d been in the health club industry at that point for 17 years. I was a paramedic when I was in college. I had a lot of experience in that aspect. I’d been teaching adults, 500 people at a time, every month. Certainly I could do that. One thing led to another, and before you know it, I was a full-time employee at the school,” she said.
She is bringing that experience to St. Peter’s as the first lay principal since its founding in 1830. She is acutely aware of the history of the Daughters of Charity, who have staffed the school all of those 190 years.
“The Daughters of Charity’s mission is evident everywhere you go in the school. And there’s a spirituality that Sister Joanne (Goecke) is still going to be leading to help us make sure to stay true to that,” Manley said.
“The motto here is ‘the school with a heart in the heart of the city,’ and I think that’s an excellent motto. There’s more heart here than any place I’ve ever been.”
Since arriving in July, Manley has been impressed by the dedication of the staff, many of whom have been at the school for years. She also has met several parents who are graduates and who have entrusted their children to St. Peter’s.
During her first year, she will be doing a lot of observing to see what works and what may need to be changed. That is always a challenge, she said, and adding in the coronavirus pandemic just adds to that. But the bottom line is that the children must be taken care of.
“We need to provide education for our children. It needs to be safe. It needs to be complete, and it needs to be Catholic. That’s what I’m hoping to accomplish,” she said.
A native of Connecticut, Manley, 63, is a graduate of Texas Women’s University. She has a master’s degree in pastoral ministry from the University of Dallas and another in educational leadership from Creighton University. She and her husband Leo had three children, one of whom is deceased. She also counts others who have lived with the family, including international students, and a friend of her daughter, as her children. Her husband has a business in Texas and will remain there for the time being.
One of the benefits of moving to Wilmington is the ease with which she can take day trips to cities such as Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and New York, since she loves to travel.
“Having the ability to jump on a train and an hour and a half later be in one of those places, spend a day there and come back that night, was very interesting to me and exciting,” she said.