PAWTUCKET — Principal Mary L. Carney has tears of joy in her eyes as an eighth-grader at St. Teresa School tells her how much he appreciates her positive attitude and caring nature.
“No matter what happens, you always have a smile on your face,” says Jason Audette, 14, who began attending St. Teresa as a kindergartener about a decade ago. “You’re a really nice principal, and you do everything the right way.”
Audette’s sentiments are shared by many others, including his fellow students, as well as the National Catholic Educational Association, (NCEA) a voluntary organization of educators and institutions. The NCEA recently named Carney the 2015 recipient of the Distinguished Principal Award for Region I.
“Catholic education is my heart and soul, and it has been for 46 years,” said Carney, who has led St. Teresa since 2002. “It’s a warm, caring community that truly lives and follows the message of Jesus.”
It’s a mission she thoroughly enjoys promoting – and living. Prior to becoming an educator, she was a Sister of Mercy from 1964 to 1984.
“Mercy is part of who I am,” Carney said. “I live Mercy.”
In the years that followed, Carney, a Warwick resident who attends Mass at a few parishes in her community, including St. Benedict and St. Kevin, served as a teacher and principal at Catholic schools throughout Rhode Island and Connecticut. She’s taught every grade from first to graduate school, and has 16 years of experience as a principal.
“I love the kids,” she said.
And they love her. While eighth graders Lizzie Bolano, 13, Sarah Williams, 14, and Kelvin Torres, 13, said Carney’s connection with God inspires them to regularly attend Mass and pray every day, others acknowledged her dedication to the school.
“She is a very hard-working woman who is always willing to do whatever she can,” said Emily Parker, 14.
Parish Pastor David Thurber, along with former Pastor Father Joseph Paquette, feels the same. According to Father Thurber, Carney “saved our school,” as she increased enrollment by more than 100 students.
“When she arrived, we only had 130 students in our school,” said Father Thurber, who took over as pastor about a year-and-a-half ago. “We were on the brink of closing. Now, we have 237 students. This school is thriving.”
Within her first year at St. Teresa, Father Paquette noted in his recommendation letter to NCEA, Carney was instrumental in helping the school achieve accreditation and re-accreditation status from New England Association of Schools and Colleges, or NEASC, the United States’ regional accreditation association. He also pointed out how she used her skills as an “adept financial planner and analyst” to secure funds for various projects, including updating and improving the school building and campus grounds.
“When Ms. Carney arrived at St. Teresa School, the parish was supporting the school with a subsidy of $217,000,” wrote Father Paquette, who hired Carney around the beginning of his tenure. “The school is currently self-sufficient and financially independent from the parish, with the exception of the mandated seven percent diocesan stipend.”
She has taught students a few lessons about good finances, too, as they often each donate $5 for dress down day campaigns. Sometimes, the funds benefit St. Teresa, but they also frequently contribute money to local organizations to support various causes for people in need and hold food drives for the community.
“Every Thanksgiving, the children bring in canned goods,” said Carney, noting that grades two through eight recently walked from St. Teresa to the food pantry at St. Matthew Lutheran Church to deliver groceries they collected. “We fed 85 families three meals a day for two to three days.”
Aside from helping feed people, Carney spiritually nourishes others, especially students and staffers at St. Teresa. One of the eighth grade teachers, Pamela Singleton, and Secretary Kathaleen Pontes, said she exemplifies Christian values and is “very deserving” of the principal award.
“I’ve never worked for a nicer principal, and I’ve worked for a lot of them,” said Singleton, who has been teaching at Catholic schools for 25 years. “She’s there for the children, the faculty, the parents, and always thinks, ‘what would Jesus do?’”
“She’s a very caring, spiritual, giving person,” said Pontes.
According to the NCEA website, the National Distinguished Principals program was established in 1984 to recognize and celebrate elementary and middle-level principals who set high standards for instruction, student achievement, character, and climate for students, families, and staffers. The award is presented by the Elementary Schools Department of the NCEA.
Each diocese throughout the country is eligible to submit a candidate for nomination. Principals are nominated for the award annually by the Catholic School Office.
In his recommendation letter to NCEA, Superintendent of Schools Daniel J. Ferris noted that Carney is “a superb mentor,” who goes “above and beyond” to make St. Teresa “a lively, Spirit-filled faith community” with “standards-based” academics.
“Ms. Carney loves Catholic education, loves Catholic schools and is one of our diocese ‘go to’ principals,” he wrote. “She is everything we believe a distinguished Catholic school principal should be.”
During an interview, Ferris said not only does Carney enhance St. Theresa as an educational facility, but also as a faith community. He described her as “a Christ-like woman,” who is loving, thoughtful, kind, considerate and humble.
He went on to say that it is “amazing” that a Rhode Island principal earned the award two years in a row, as Principal Lisa M. Lapore of St. Mary School in Cranston received the recognition in 2014.
“There are so many exceptional Catholic school principals,” said Ferris. “In our Diocese, we had difficultly limiting our nomination to just one…It’s wonderful how blessed we are in our schools of the Diocese of Providence and its reflection of the support our principals receive from Bishop [Thomas J.] Tobin and the pastors who forward recommendations on their behalf.”
As a distinguished principal, Ferris noted, her devotion to Catholic schools and faith do not end with St. Teresa, as she serves on several commissions, committees and boards, as well as mentors new principals. She is also involved with the NEASC, and is chairperson of her area’s principal grouping for professional development.
“The list goes on,” said Ferris.
Amidst all the praise, Carney credits her co-workers for helping to create and sustain a positive, faith-filled school community. Their goal, she said, it to continue to spread the Gospel.
“Everything that we are doing is done in the name of Christ,” she said.
Carney, along with principals from eight other regions, will be honored during the annual NCEA convention on April 7 in Orlando, Fla. She’s looking forward to attending the event with her family, along with a few colleagues.
“I’m beyond excited; I’ve been kind of on a cloud,” she said. “It’s definitely a wonderful time.”