‘Just passing through’ turned into 18 years for Sister Veronica Janas

GREENVILLE — St. Mary School  has said goodbye to Sister Veronica Janas, the principal who has led the school since 1988 and gathered faculty, staff and parents into what one admirer describes as a “community of faith.”

“I initially thought I was just passing through here, and instead I’ve been here 18 years,” said Sister Veronica, a  Sister of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy.

Before coming to Greenville, she worked at St. Angela Academy in Aiken.

“The years here at St. Mary’s have been just magical,” she said. “The parents, teachers and students have been wonderful to work with. It’s truly like a family here.”

St. Mary was founded in 1900 and first served by Ursuline sisters. The Sisters of Charity took over in 1933. The school’s new principal will be one of three Dominican nuns coming to Greenville from Nashville at the end of the summer.

A native of New Jersey whose father served in the U.S. Navy, Sister Veronica moved to Charleston with her family and attended both Blessed Sacrament School and Bishop England High School.

It was in Charleston, she said, that she encountered the nuns in the order she would eventually join, and where she would discover her love of education.

During her years as principal at St. Mary, Sister Veronica worked to improve academics and facilities at the school. Staff members point proudly at the lush green soccer field and playground that span the property, and recall having to clean all the skinned knees that resulted from the school’s earlier asphalt play areas.

A performing arts center and new gymnasium have been built, and Sister Veronica said she has been working to get the school fitted for wireless computing. Computers are already in use throughout the school.

St. Mary currently has an enrollment of 350 students in K4 through the eighth grade.

In a letter in the church bulletin on May 7, Father Jay Scott Newman, St. Mary’s pastor, wrote eloquently about Sister Veronica’s contribution to the school. He described how the school had been experiencing financial difficulties and declining enrollment when she arrived, and how 18 years later the climate had been transformed.

“This transformation was made possible only by her labor of love, and there is no way adequately to express our gratitude to this woman of God,” Father Newman wrote.

The congregation of St. Mary and the families from the school gathered together on May 20 for a special reception honoring Sister Veronica.

“It has been fabulous to work with her,” said Carroll Taylor, an assistant teacher for the second grade who has worked at the school for 13 years. “Sister Veronica is just a kind, caring person. We feel like she’s part of our family. She has looked out for the faculty and their families here, and if people needed help at any time, she gave them help.”

Frances Caver, who teaches 4-year-old kindergarten, first met Sister Veronica when she was at St. Angela Academy in Aiken. Caver’s husband worked as a gym teacher at St. Angela and Caver sought out St. Mary and Sister Veronica when her family moved to Greenville.

“She’s been kind, caring and very supportive,” Caver said. “She has been there for staff members through births, deaths, weddings, illnesses. She has really taught us what it means to be part of a community. We’ve become a faith community under her.”

Sister Veronica has now returned to her order’s motherhouse on James Island. She will be working as a consultant on secondary education in the Diocese of Charleston.

“I’m grateful to my community for allowing me to be here, but I’m also looking forward to being with those wonderful women at the motherhouse,” Sister Veronica said.

She is especially glad to be back on the coast and near the water, she said.

Laura Sanford, director of admissions for St. Mary, called Sister Veronica’s departure a “phenomenal loss” because of all she has done for the school. Sanford, who worked as a volunteer at St. Mary and then as the school secretary for eight years, recalled that people responded immediately when Sister Veronica first arrived and issued a plea for help in improving the school.

“She was a real visionary for the school,” Sanford said. “Sister Veronica is going to be a hard act to follow.”