Sister Julia Hutchison says goodbye to diocesan schools

Notre Dame Sister Julia Hutchison speaks in March at the S.C. Catholic Schools Teachers Conference 2010. She has served as diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools for five years. (Kenneth B. Headley)

Notre Dame Sister Julia Hutchison speaks in March at the S.C. Catholic Schools Teachers Conference 2010. She has served as diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools for five years. (Kenneth B. Headley)CHARLESTON—Sister Julia Marie Hutchison, SND, will mark her last day as superintendent of Catholic schools on June 30.

The Sister of Notre Dame has served the diocese since 2005 and said she will be sad to leave the teachers and principals she has grown to love.

“It’s been a delightful and a wonderful five years working with them, and I will miss them. I will miss them personally and professionally,” said Sister Julia.

She will return to her provincial center in Toledo, Ohio, and take a semester off to work on a personal project and visit with family.

From the day she first arrived in Charleston, the religious sister said she has been blessed with wonderful schools and dedicated principals.

“They were already a community that knew each other and liked each other,” Sister Julia said.

The camaraderie and cooperation made her job easier, especially in a school system that encompasses an entire state, covering 32,007 square miles.

To close the distance, they established regional collaboration so each area could address issues unique to their part of the state.

Sister Julia said the success of that effort could be seen in the recent teachers’ conference, where it was evident they all cared what each other had to say.  

Other projects included a marketing campaign on a large and small scale. Logos and banners were created for the diocese with billboards going up in certain areas, plus each school identified their own selling points and ways to reach out to the community.

Sister Julia said marketing efforts need to be stepped up, however.

“We have a healthy start, but it needs to grow and be more visible,” she said. “We need to sell ourselves for what we have, which are wonderful schools.”

She doesn’t believe any school is at a point where it should combine with another because of poor enrollment, and said that should be a last resort.

Instead, she would like to see support from every church, whether a parish is affiliated with a school or not.

Sandra Leatherwood, assistant to the superintendent, said Sister Julia was always looking for opportunities to enhance strengths and address challenges in the schools.

“She has been an inspiring person to work both with and for and will be greatly missed,” Leatherwood said.

The Sister of Notre Dame has been involved with Catholic education for 42 years, and said the most remarkable initiative she has seen in that time is the Options Program.

Bishop England was the first to implement Options, which blends special-needs students into the classroom and the social life of the school.  

Sister Julia said she would like to see Options at every school in the diocese.

“To me it’s the most pro-life activity Catholic schools could undertake,” she said.

Currently, Summerville Catholic and Charleston Catholic are establishing the program at their schools.

Lisa Tanner, principal of Summerville Catholic, said the superintendent is always willing to talk to them about what they need and how she can help.

“She’s been very supportive in helping myself, my faculty and staff, expand the educational opportunities for all of God’s children,” Tanner said.

She said Sister Julia’s dedication to Catholic education is clearly visible in all areas.

The principals and teachers held a farewell for their diocesan leader in April. In June, educators from the regional dioceses will celebrate with her before she departs.

“I thought that was very lovely,” Sister Julia said. “I was so pleased they thought enough to say goodbye.”

Sister Julia said she is planning to take a vacation with her family, and then will work with some friends on a globalization project in regards to how our merging world affects children in school.

“We’re becoming a smaller planet, we’re becoming an evolving planet,” she said. “This has great implications for our youth. The convergence of cultures can be positive or it can be negative.”

Sister Julia said they want to take the opportunity to create understanding and respect between the cultures in a peaceful way.