‘It’s been a spiritual journey’ for Yvonne Tolley Orr

CHARLESTON – If Yvonne Tolley Orr is having a bad day, all she needs to do is look at the smiling faces of the students at Charleston Catholic School.

It’s those smiling faces that make her feel good, and she’ll miss them the most as she retires from her post as principal at Charleston Catholic at the end of this school year.

After 40 years in education, she said, she thinks the time is right to retire.

“I am going to miss it terribly,” she said. “This has been a very hard decision. I’m going to miss seeing them (the students) grow spiritually and academically. I don’t know how I’m going to fill my days without seeing the children.”

Tolley Orr began her career with Charleston County Schools, serving initially as an English teacher and working her way to central administration. She retired from Charleston County Schools in June 2000 and wanted to go into consulting.

But Charleston Catholic – a school that she had helped form as a member of the blue ribbon committee – needed a principal, and she felt a calling to help the school by serving as its leader beginning in July 2000.

“After much deliberation and prayer, I decided to take this opportunity,” she said. “It’s really been a blessing. It’s been a spiritual journey for me.”

Tolley Orr said it has been a great job because she has had the support of staff and parents who make the school feel like a family.

“This staff is above all,” she said. “They are so dedicated, so knowledgeable and so talented.”

Charleston Catholic has 209 students and serves five parishes: Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, St. Mary of the Annunciation, St. Patrick, Sacred Heart and Our Lady of Mercy.

Many students from outside those parishes are drawn to Charleston Catholic because of its outstanding arts program, including its excellent band and chorus, Tolley Orr said. Because of that, the school also has a diversity of students from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, she said.

“There have been so many good times,” she said. “The children are just a group of loving children. They care about each other.”

Charity Chisolm, 16, a graduate of Charleston Catholic who is now a sophomore at Burke High School, said Tolley Orr would be missed.

“Mrs. Orr is a beautiful woman inside and out,” she said. “She was an outstanding principal, and I admired her greatly for all her hard work and dedication that she put into the students and into the school.”

Tolley Orr said she will miss the closeness that students, staff and parents share.

“It’s so family-oriented because it’s a small school. Everybody takes care of each other,” she said. “Whoever comes here is going to be very fortunate.” Tolley Orr’s successor has not yet been selected.

The school is in the midst of a building campaign, and Tolley Orr said she would continue to be a part of helping support the school.

“This place will always have a special place in my heart,” she said.