Nine new principals start year at diocesan schools

SPARTANBURG — Eight of the 30 Catholic schools in South Carolina have new leaders for the 2005-2006 academic year. Some incoming principals have replaced retiring administrators, some are interim themselves and others have moved up in the same schools where they have been working.

The new principal at St. Peter School in Beaufort has assumed a unique double role in the parish. Deacon William Lacombe is the liturgical minister at St. Peter Church, and remains in that ministry as he replaces interim principal Mary Fallon at the parish school. The 15-year veteran of the Hampton County public schools was “thrilled” with his first principalship and thinks the dual duties will mesh well with his ordained calling.

“That’s the beauty of the diaconate, that we give the gifts of our prior lives to the church,” Deacon Lacombe said. “I consider this position as part of my call as a deacon.”

The deacon-principal holds two master’s degrees, one in elementary school administration. St. Peter School was founded by Father Martin Laughlin in the 1990-91 school year and has 220 students in 4-year-old kindergarten through eighth grade.

Msgr. Laughlin is the former pastor of St. Francis by the Sea on Hilton Head Island. That parish’s 240-student school also has a new leader, Michael Rockers, Ph.D., former principal and superintendent for the Diocese of Little Rock, Ark. The new principal taught for eight years in the Diocese of Winona, Minn., prior to his 20-year career in Arkansas. He and his wife, Lori, are empty nesters now, he said, and looking for a new challenge.

“I can’t wait to get going,” Rockers said. “We’re going to have a great school year.”

At St. Joseph School in Columbia, Sister Christina Murphy retired in 2004 after 15 years. She left to go into pastoral work at Our Lady of the Hills Parish. Ursuline Sister Julienne Guy, a former principal at St. Joseph and a former administrator at Cardinal Newman High School, filled the void temporarily.

“I was here as a principal in the ’70s,” Sister Guy said. “This year we celebrated our 50th anniversary. I was happy to be here for that.”

Sister Guy returned to her senior ministry now that the new principal, Sister Susan Marie Hazenski, has taken over. Sister Hazenski, a Sister of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, comes to St. Joseph from St. Joseph. That is to say, after eight years as principal of St. Joseph School in Hazelton, Pa., she will become principal at St. Joseph School in Columbia.

Across town at the Catholic high school, two former teachers share interim administrative duties. Rose Tindall and Danny Dorsel will replace Jim McIntyre at Cardinal Newman High School. McIntyre, who was at CNHS for five years, left to become the new principal at Father Ryan High School in Tennessee.

“Rose was the assistant principal in charge of our middle school and Danny was our director of advancement,” said Tony Haughey, chair of the school’s theology department. “We’re continuing the search for a new principal, but Rose and Danny will run the school all year.”

Tindall also taught biology at Cardinal Newman High School, and Dorsel was a math teacher. Susan Henry, another math teacher, has taken over administrative duties at the middle school. The middle and high schools have a combined student population of about 420.

Up the interstate, in Rock Hill, St. Anne School found its new principal at a neighboring parish. Susie Belle Hinton was a retired principal who had finished her career in 1996 in Connecticut and had returned to her native Rock Hill. She has a bachelor’s degree in social work and a master’s degree in education. With 34 years of experience as an educator in Connecticut, 25 of those were spent as an administrator.

In addition to her educational career, Hinton, was an ordained Baptist minister. She converted from African Methodist Episcopal to Catholocism in 1999. This active parishioner of St. Mary church replaces veteran administrator Fred McKay who is now director of marketing and development at St. Anne school.

The other St. Anne School, in Sumter, found a replacement for retiring principal Peter Lawrence. She is Kristi Doyle, a homegrown product. Doyle taught math and science at St. Anne; she is a parishioner and a school parent as well. Her daughter is entering first grade and her son is entering fifth, according to Annette Doyle (no relation), long-time secretary and former teacher at St. Anne.

“She is young and dynamic and is going to be a great principal,” Doyle said of the new principal.

The school has one class in each grade from 5-year-old kindergarten through eighth, for a total of about 145 students.

Doyle taught in public schools following a hospital laboratory career of five years. She is pursuing a master’s degree in educational administration at the University of South Carolina.

“This is a fantastic opportunity,” she said.

In the southern part of the Midlands Deanery, St. Mary Help of Christians School in Aiken also hired a school parent as its new principal. Peggy Wertz replaced Keith Darr, who ran the parish school for the past eight years. He moved to St. Mary on the Hill School in nearby Augusta, Ga. Darr agreed with school secretary Cathy Green that Wertz is bringing a strong background in education to her new post. She has been a principal and manager in Aiken County public schools.

“I know Peggy as a parent and know that she is well-respected in the community. I feel confident that St. Mary’s will have good leadership ahead in Peggy Wertz,” Darr said.

The pastor of the two-year-old Prince of Peace School in Taylors also has confidence in that school’s new principal, Michael Pennell, who replaced Ann Smith.

“We’re thrilled to get Dr. Pennell, with his experience and leadership abilities. We expect him to build on the foundation set in place by Ann Smith, who is leaving to become a full-time mom,” said Father Steven L. Brovey.

Pennell comes from St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Greenville, where he was head of the middle school and assistant headmaster. He was also dean of discipline for both the middle and upper schools, though he wants to reassure people about that.

“I would like to put the parents of Prince of Peace School at ease,” Pennell said. “They are not getting a high school disciplinarian as their new principal.”

Pennell received his formal education from Catholic colleges, his undergraduate degree from Thomas More College and both master’s and doctorate from the Institute of Philosophical Studies at the University of Dallas, a diocesan university. He also holds a certificate in school administration. He taught writing to freshmen at the University of Dallas for three years before becoming academic dean at The Highland School, a private institute offering classes beginning at grade four.

After eight years at Highland, Pennell came to South Carolina as assistant headmaster of the Greenville Catholic school. In 2002, St. Joseph’s added a middle school with Pennell in charge. It has doubled in size each year since.

That is the same kind of growth that the new administrator will experience at Prince of Peace. The only Catholic school in Taylors began with 5-year-old kindergarten through second grade, added third grade last year, and will add fourth grade in 2005-2006. It has 140 registered students — a full complement at each grade level — and a waiting list.

“All of (the students) are Catholics and I think about all may be parishioners,” Father Brovey said. “It shows the need for Catholic education on this side of Greenville.”

The school was an undertaking fraught with uncertainty at its beginning because of the expense and effort involved in starting a school from scratch.

“It took a leap of faith,” he said.

The future of Prince of Peace School includes expansion of the school building and continued annual growth until it includes the eighth grade. Michael Pennell and his wife, Lara, will add to that rapid growth. They are joining the Prince of Peace Parish community with their six children, three boys and three girls.

To find out more about Catholic schools in your area, visit the Web site at; look under “Parishes & Schools.”