BY KATHY SCHMUGGE
COLUMBIA — The Diocese of Charleston’s teacher in-service meeting on Sept. 9 was like a huge pep rally where teachers, staff, and administrators left feeling proud to be part of Catholic education.
That enthusiasm was shared by their new superintendent of Catholic Schools, Sister Julia Hutchison, a School Sister of Notre Dame.
“We are here about the Gospel, not just preaching, but teaching, caring and connecting,” Sister Julia told the more than 500 Catholic educators and staff gathered at St. John Neumann.
She brings to the job a 44-year career in Catholic education, including positions as teacher, principal, and in diocesan administration.
“Sister Hutchison is an exceptionally intelligent woman and will be a tremendous resource for the diocese,” said Msgr. Joseph Roth, vicar general and director of Christian formation for the diocese. “She will make sure the Catholic Schools maintain their identity with her love of young people and her desire for strong academic excellence.”
In her talk, Sister Hutchison gave a scenario that helped everyone think about the important differences between public and Catholic education. She asked the participants to imagine that their brother-in-law just decided he was going to take his children out of the Catholic school and send them to a good public school that was close to home and was free.
“What would you say?” she asked the educators. “The difference by design of Catholic schools [from other schools] is you. The median between the Gospel message we profess and the children is you. The connection will happen or it won’t happen. You make the difference. We make the difference.”
Sister Hutchison also described how she planned to minister with those who worked in the diocesan schools. She told the crowd that her responsibility was to serve them, support them, and challenge them.
“We need each other,” she said.
The new superintendent also thanked Sister Canice Adams for the leadership she provided for the Diocese of Charleston as its previous superintendent. Sister Hutchison said that last year’s national test scores of the Catholic students in the state impressed her. No student fell below the 74th percentile and she felt that information needed to reach the public.
“What a wonderful foundation to build upon,” she said. “I am a bit nervous about stepping into those shoes.”
Richard Burke from Catholic School Management Inc. also spoke about the changing national attitudes about Catholic education and discussed ways to improve enrollment by accentuating the unique mission of the schools. He specifically addressed the role of the professional educator and support staff in marketing Catholic education.
The event concluded with a Mass celebrated by Bishop Robert J. Baker and Msgr. Roth.
“We were excited when we found out that Sister Hutchison was a Sister of Notre Dame, and look forward to working with her,” said Patty Held, development director of Charleston Catholic School. “Sister Margaret Mary Faist and Sister Richarde Kaufman are from the same order and are teaching at the Charleston Catholic School. We feel so blessed to have them. They are wonderful women whom the children admire.”