By NANCY SCHWERIN
CHARLESTON — It seems that throughout his career Gary Gelo has been lead to minister to youth. He’ll continue his ministry in the Diocese of Charleston as the assistant superintendent of schools.
After graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he started out as the diocesan youth ministry coordinator in the Diocese of Raleigh.
From there he went to work at the North Carolina School of Science and Math in Durham, where he organized student activities and was on the residential staff and the dormitory council. While at the school, Gelo explored opportunities for a master’s degree.
During a weekend youth retreat that he was helping to staff, he was asked to drive a youth three hours back to Raleigh because the teen broke the substance abuse rule. He felt the need to help this kid, reach out to him and turn his life in a new direction.
Soon after, he sought guidance from Sister Mary Frances Taymans, who suggested he enroll in Boston College’s Catholic School Leadership Program and told him about an opening at Cardinal Gibbons High School in the Diocese of Raleigh, where she was principal.
“I wanted to do something with young people, and Sister Mary Frances called me into (education),” said Gelo, who took the opportunity.
He enrolled in the program at Boston College, where he would attend his first Catholic school. The diocese and the high school paid part of his costs, and he went on to receive his masters in administration, supervision and curriculum and then went back to work for the Diocese of Raleigh.
At Cardinal Gibbons High School he was the dean of students, campus ministry coordinator, and a teacher.
While he thrived at the high school, Superintendent Regina Haney suggested a move up as principal at Blessed Sacrament, a diocesan elementary school. Gelo saw a great opportunity in serving the school of 96 students. A few years into the assignment the small herd became the first Catholic school in the Carolinas to win a Blue Ribbon award, which requires a rigorous evaluation process, including an extended site visit, conducted by the U.S. Department of Education.
The summer of 1992 was a transition period for Gelo. Dr. Michael Skube, superintendent of the neighboring Diocese of Charlotte, came knocking at his door. He recruited him to be the founding principal of All Saints School. He successfully completed the job and opened a thriving new school.
A few years later, Haney, now with the National Catholic Education Association, recommended him for a superintendent job in Shreveport, La.
“It was a good supportive diocese for a new superintendent,” said Gelo. “Bishop William Friend and Sister Margaret Daues, chancellor, were both former superintendents and offered great support and mentoring.”
So Gelo, once again recognizing an excellent opportunity, took the bait and moved to Shreveport, a diocese with 12 schools. During his tenure, Gelo saw one school close.
The guiding force in his move to Charleston was his family — parents, two sisters, a niece, and grandmother — in Greensboro, N.C. He simply wanted to be closer to them, so he and his 12-year-old yellow lab, Huck, settled in the Lowcountry.
Gelo’s affection for youth is apparent in his gusto for teaching and reaching out to them. His current platform is integrating technology into curriculum and making education come alive for kids.
“They are so used to sound bites and two-minute segments being thrown at them that we must be guides to help them learn how to access information and develop a balance between where we were and where we are going,” said Gelo. “We must also integrate Catholic values, what’s right and moral in the midst of all this.”
As an administrator his eyes and ears are always open to what’s best for the students.
While in Shreveport as superintendent, Gelo visited a home for foreign exchange students. Petar Radulovic, a Serbian student at the local Catholic high school, was living there. Gelo, aghast to find the place in ill-repair and foul-upkeep, reported the woman running the place to the agency that provided supervision for the exchange students. He was told that Petar would be removed if Gelo could find other living arrangements for him. Unsure of what to do, Gelo talked to Petar. Being in a strange country away from his family, Petar said he would only live with Gelo, who then opted to take on the charge of this teen-ager.
Throughout Gelo’s career he has helped run various service projects that take students out of their element to experience the differences in the world — projects that are not uncommon, supplying a needy school with hats and scarves, bringing Christmas to a family without a tree or presents. But he said of these type of services, “it must be more than us giving to them.”
He explained that while being sensitive to the needs of both parties, they created an interaction among the kids. “We incorporated Gospel values, following the model of Jesus — how he related to everyone.
“Kids need to experience things beyond their own world. Sometimes we make the mistake of doing a service project without making the connection with why we’re doing it; it’s not always understood.”
A man of many adventures, he spent five weeks driving across the United States, and found that if not a small world, it’s a small country after all. Of his 35 nights on the road, he managed to stay with friends for 29 of them. In recent years, he has traveled throughout Europe, including visiting Petar’s family in Yugoslavia. He also hopes to go back to study his Italian heritage.
Like a man of many adventures would, he enjoys many sports. While he takes part in athletics, he is a self-proclaimed spectator. Being from the Southeast he says he’s definitely a Braves fan and not unlike most Tarheels he’s a big UNC basketball fan. He went to the World Cup in 1994 and to Atlanta for the Olympics in 1996.
“The future is now,” says Gelo. “We must prepare kids for a future that will be ever-changing. The key is creating life-long learners.”