Skip to main content

Secondary navigation:

Lynch School of Education

New and Renewing Catholic School Principals

Dr. Patricia Weitzel-O'Neill and Mary Grassa O'Neill

On July 6-8 the Barbara and Patrick Roche Center for Catholic Education hosted First Things and Second Things: Leadership Perspectives and Practices for New and Renewing Catholic School Principals. This three-day retreat brought together 18 Catholic school principals from New England and one principal from Maryland. The retreat was held at the Connors Family Retreat and Conference Center in Dover, Massachusetts.

The retreat focused on supporting new principals and experienced principals, encouraging the latter to renew their vision of successful primary and secondary Catholic education. Guided by the philosophy of C.S. Lewis’s Principle of First Things and Second Things, participants identified important areas of focus both in creating and living the mission of their school. 

The conference featured eight discussions led by dynamic speakers including:

  • Fr. Joseph O’Keefe, S.J., who shared insights into current trends in Catholic Education. O’Keefe explained the Catholic qualities of the principle of First Things and Second Things and its relevance in decision making for Catholic Schools.
  • Dr. Patricia Weitzel-O’Neill led the participants to understand the difference between school mission and vision and to articulate how these characteristics are built into the operations of a school.
  • Dr. Elizabeth Twomey discussed the value of developing key partnerships in the school community, and how to know which partnerships are important to each of the participating schools.
  • Dr. Aubrey Scheopner Torres presented current research on trends in teacher retention, the reasons why teachers leave the practice, and methods of retaining qualified teachers.
  • Dr. Irwin Blumer encouraged participants to identify their core values and to understand how to use these values to strengthen their school communities.
  • Dr. Mary Grassa O’Neill taught the participants ways to develop their teaching staff into a professional learning community.
  • Mr. Michael Reardon focused on the non-academic roles of school leaders that are critical to the school’s mission, in particular financial and strategic planning.
  • Dr. Jane Regan led a discussion on the responsibility of Catholic school leaders to foster the spiritual needs of the school.

“Many new principals of Catholic Schools feel extremely isolated,” said Dr. Patricia Weitzel-O’Neill, executive director of the Roche Center for Catholic Education. “They may have recently been promoted from teacher positions, changing their peer relationships while at the same time inheriting a new set of challenges and issues. Participants left this conference with a strong sense of community, knowing that they had created a network of colleagues who can turn towards each other for advice, encouragement and insight into best practices and resources.”

The Roche Center plans to host two separate day-long follow up retreats in the year ahead for participants to support the work that began at the retreat, supporting their efforts in leading effective, 21st century Catholic schools and to promote the group’s cohesiveness as school leaders.

The Barbara and Patrick Roche Center for Catholic Education, rooted in the Ignatian culture of Jesuit education, provides professional advancement opportunities, applied research, support and outreach for Catholic educators to ensure the success and sustainability of Catholic education. For more information please visit