Sister Stella Maris ‘an icon’ after 26 years as principal

MOUNT PLEASANT – It’s a question Sister Stella Maris Craven is asked all of the time: Why does the school she is principal of have her name?

“That’s just a coincidence,” she says.

When Sister Stella Maris entered the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy in Charleston in 1952, she chose the name “Stella Maris” as her religious name. In 1980, the opportunity arose for her to become principal of the school that happens to bear her religious name, Christ Our King/Stella Maris School in Mount Pleasant.

She said that one student recently commented that the name of the school would have to change soon. That’s because, effective July 1, Sister Stella Maris will retire as principal at the school she has led for 26 years. Her successor will be named at a later date.

Msgr. James A. Carter, pastor of Christ Our King Church, said Sister Stella Maris would be missed because of her professionalism and dedication.

“She’s become an icon in 26 years,” he said. “She has, I’m sure, witnessed a great deal of transformation from what was a small school to the largest school in the diocese. Certainly, the school is among the premier schools, I think, because of her vision and her expertise.”

Sister Stella Maris has spent 47 years in education. When she entered the religious order, she said, the choice was between nursing and education. She didn’t like the sight of blood, she said, so the decision was an easy one.

She hasn’t looked back since, serving as a principal or teacher at schools in New Jersey, Greenville, Myrtle Beach and Aiken before taking the head post at Christ Our King/Stella Maris School in 1980.

When Sister Stella Maris arrived, she found a 1950s building that was in need of maintenance. The hallways had very poor lighting, she said. Then, nine years later, Hurricane Hugo happened.

Sister Stella Maris remembers walking through the hallways and wading in water, amazed at the damage the hurricane had done. Paint peeled afterward because water had seeped through the walls, she recalled.

Hurricane Hugo was a turning point. The school used the insurance money from the damage to renovate and add space. And it has continued to grow, in recent years adding a gymnasium, conference rooms, a music room and a life center, Msgr. Carter said. The school serves 677 students.

Msgr. Lawrence B. McInerny, pastor of Stella Maris Church on Sullivan’s Island, said Sister Stella Maris has been a successful leader because she is so committed to education.

“I think she’s done a tremendous job,” he said, adding that people respect and have a fondness for Sister Stella Maris. Even in a large school, he said, Sister Stella Maris always has an uncanny knack for knowing every problem or situation that occurs.

Sister Stella Maris told The Miscellany in an interview that she likes to make sure that she recognizes the good that is going on in the school. She is delighted, she said, when she sees the sparkle in students’ eyes when they are learning something new.

“One of the things I’ve enjoyed about being principal is the challenges, always trying to raise it to a higher level and also working with innovative teachers,” she said. “There are teachers who are always on the verge of trying to do something different in education. It’s always been a great satisfaction to work with these teachers.”

Sister Stella Maris, who likes cooking and listening to music, said she doesn’t see herself slowing down too much in her retirement.

“The day-to-day running of a large school – it is a little taxing,” she said. “I may be doing some kind of work in the educational field.”