WILMINGTON — While hundreds of students say goodbye to their schools this time of year, some faculty and staff members are doing the same. One of the longest-tenured employees in Catholic education is stepping away after 45 years at Ursuline Academy.
Marie Ferrier arrived at the Wilmington campus on July 1, 1976, at the invitation of Jack Varsalona, who had been her boss in the Appoquinimink School District. Ferrier figured she would be at Ursuline for a few years.
“He called and said, ‘Marie, I need you here at Ursuline. I came, and I told him, ‘Jack, I’ll come for you, but I’m only staying five years.’ So when they did something at my 40th (anniversary), he said something about that statement,” Ferrier recalled last month at Ursuline, where she is the director of facilities and assistant to the president.
In her current role, she has overseen work at the school’s facilities, which included two academic buildings when she arrived. Over the years, Ursuline has added a performing arts center, an administration building in a home across Franklin Street that has since been sold, and its newest addition, the Anthony N. Fusco Student Life Center, which opened in 2019.
That was one of Ferrier’s last projects. She had announced her intention to retire before the building opened, but stuck around to see it through completion, plus some additional time to make sure everything worked as planned. The center houses offices, classrooms, a lounge area and a cafeteria for students that allowed them to eat somewhere besides the school basement.
“I’m glad we were able to accomplish this before I left,” she said.
Ferrier, 69, was not always in facilities. She worked with the school counselors; helped put together newsletters; and manned the front office. It was in that role where she got to know the students the best, “especially the ones who were late.” She said she has done just about everything but teach and coach basketball.
Over the years, she has seen two generations of the same family graduate, with some alumnae coming back to work at Ursuline. Her oldest granddaughter attended from pre-kindergarten through high school, and Ferrier said she can see the school’s influence on its students.
“I always say you know an Ursuline girl. I can’t explain it. There’s a sisterhood. My granddaughter who graduated from here, she lives with Ursuline girls at (the University of) Delaware. It’s a sisterhood, and it’s always been there. I have not seen any change in that,” she said.
“They produce these students to serve. That’s one thing I’ve always been proud of these kids about. They give back. I’m in touch with a lot of them who graduated. There’s always a giveback. They’re always volunteering. There’s always a charity they’re heading.”
The sisterhood ceremony, in which seniors are paired with freshmen as big sisters, is one of her favorites. She also recalled seniors pulling a prank one year by filling a fountain on Pennsylvania Avenue with bubbles, then getting in while wearing their full uniforms. The students notified the local media first.
Ursuline president Trisha Medeiros said Ferrier’s impact after 45 years will continue to be felt after her departure. She will remain part of the school family, Medeiros said.
“Her heart and caring nature carry into her daily interactions with everyone on our campus,” she said. “I am incredibly grateful for Marie’s dedication and unwavering commitment to Ursuline. I am excited for her to begin this new chapter in her life and to enjoy a well-deserved retirement.”
Of all the changes over nearly a half-century, Ferrier calls the student life center the biggest. But Ferrier was also there when the middle school students moved to the upper school, and she recalled getting rid of the rubber floor in the gymnasium in favor of wood.
“I’ve seen a lot of changes, all for the good,” she said.
Ferrier said the time is right to step aside. Her husband, Michael, was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago, and although it is in remission, “you don’t want to bide your time. He’s retired, and I want to be able to spend more time with him.”
The couple has three adult children and nine grandchildren. They want to spend more time with their family, and they have a place in Florida, which satisfies Ferrier’s preference for warm weather. She said she is in the book club at Ursuline, but will have to find a new one.
They live near Prices Corner, but Ferrier has remained a parishioner at St. Anthony of Padua, although she also attends Corpus Christi in Elsmere. She is confident that Ursuline will continue to prosper under Medeiros, who, Ferrier says, has great ideas and knows what it takes to keep the school progressing.
She had opportunities to leave over the years, but even after her initial five years was up, she refused. She found that working in schools gave her more flexibility with her time, especially over the summer. Ferrier also liked the atmosphere at Ursuline.
“I felt the sisterhood,” she said. “It felt like a family.”