In this episode of “Faculty in Focus,” we hear from Sr. Patricia Helene Earl, Professor of Education and Director of Marymount University’s Catholic School Leadership Program (CSLP), and learn about her roots in Catholic education, the CSLP mission and her unwavering faith and love for Marymount and the Catholic community as a whole.
Marymount has been a part of my life since I was a little girl. I am a total product of Catholic school from elementary, secondary, college, master’s degree and formation as a religious sister. I did my doctoral dissertation on the faith formation of the laity in Catholic schools, so it was a perfect segue when I was invited to come to Marymount to be the first full-time director of the Catholic School Leadership Program. It allowed me to use not only my experience but my academic preparation and my research. Marymount has been my home and I am delighted to be able to come back at this time of my life.
What got you interested in education, specifically Catholic education?
I am a product of Catholic education all the way through. It’s what I know, it’s what I lived and it’s what I believe in, so being drawn to Catholic education is at the heart of who I am. In addition to being a religious sister, I am also a part of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Congregation. I had been involved with other religious communities throughout both high school and college. When I finished college as a laywoman, I was drawn to teaching religious education through Sunday school to the children. From there, I taught at St. Thomas More for a time, which opened up the opportunity to teach full time at the elementary school there. I got to know the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Congregation as colleagues and friends, and I entered that community as a result. My entire life has been woven around Catholic education, and then with being called to religious life, it was a very natural thing that I’ve been involved in Catholic education.
How has your teaching style changed over the years?
What I’ve done over the years, especially moving into higher education, I’ve become so much more aware of the global interest and the importance of having students be active contributors to your own learning. That way, it’s not just the professor, but it’s that give-and-take between professor and student. When I first came to Marymount for the Catholic School Leadership Program, a brand new idea was proposed to have the CSLP online, and so I learned how to teach online in order to basically direct a program online, except for the summer sessions when the students would come to campus. I’ve learned a variety of styles of teaching according to age level, according to the changing times, and it has been a wonderful opportunity to really become aware of so many things out there — especially nowadays with what we can utilize today with technology.
Within the Program at Marymount initially, before Zoom, I would visit my students for the internship in person. We didn’t have the quality of technology — so in the early days of the Program, from about 2003 to 2012, when it was time to visit my student interns I actually had to visit them wherever they were. Whether that was in Hawaii or Marymount in Paris, I would visit them. I’ve gained a great deal of opportunities to travel and visit them, but now being able to engage with students no matter where they are through Zoom keeps them in a quality learning opportunity regardless of their location.
What do you hope to impress on those who enroll in the Catholic School Leadership Program?
One of the things that I look upon as a really important aspect of this Program, that has been near and dear to my heart, is the reality that we are not only preparing people to be principals, assistant principals, directors, heads of school, campus ministers, directors of religious education. We can prepare them to be excellent educators, we can prepare them to run the school, but we have the awesome responsibility to also prepare them to be that spiritual leader in the Catholic school. We can prepare them to assist the pastor and the priest, who are in charge of the parish. We can prepare them for the day-to-day activities and have that faith background, that tradition background, and to continue to keep Catholic education not only the quality education it is, but the faith-centered education. I see that as a primary role of the Program. It’s been a real blessing for me to realize that I have a small part to play in furthering Catholic education, not only locally, but all over the country and even some other parts of the world.
In regards to the Catholic School Leadership Program, what kind of impact has this role had on you as a Catholic educator?
First of all, I have just been so humbled to recognize that so many of the students who come to our Program are so dedicated to Catholic education. They are committed to our principles and our faith. To me, it has just been a tremendous gift to be able to guide them and lead them to pursue this idea of wanting to assume a leadership role in Catholic schools. Other students who have come from other school settings have also benefited, and I’m so touched with the way they have enjoyed the Program regardless of their faith.
I think that looking back at the Program, when I see that so many of our administrators here in the Arlington Diocese are graduates of the Program as well as those who are in the other 40 states and four countries, it’s an amazing thing for me to see that we’ve been able to engage with such a global opportunity. I believe that the impact that we have been able to have with Marymount’s Program has trained so many over the years and allowed them to develop their skills and gifts. It has been a delight and joy for me to recognize that we have been able to perpetuate or help to contribute to the ongoing development of the excellence of not only education, but Catholic education.
What other contributions do you make to Marymount outside of the classroom?
I am often called to give presentations to various other Catholic dioceses around the country. In fact, I am actually going to Gallop, N.M. at the end of September to do a two-day workshop for teachers, principals, directors of religious education and catechists.
I’ve been called upon to really focus on the faith formation piece in the leadership — doing things related to Catholic identity, prayer, spirituality and so many other aspects of faith formation. I’m very active with a number of roles within the Arlington Diocese. These roles include assisting them to recruit teachers for their schools and giving presentations for the superintendent’s office once or twice a year. I am a part of their leadership academy, where I give a presentation to new and prospective principals every year on the spiritual role of the principal, which is based on my experience and what we also do here at Marymount. I continue to serve on a number of the reaccreditation teams, which reaccredit schools in the Arlington Diocese, known as DFE or Design for Excellence. I have been able to speak at our parishes on behalf of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. I’ve written several books published through the National Catholic Education Association — books related to helping teachers help students build the builders, as well as books with themes relating to virtue, spirituality and prayer. I’ve been able to speak at the National Catholic Education Association conferences, both for superintendents in the fall and for all Catholic educators in the spring.
I’ve been able to take this message beyond Marymount — but also in many ways allow that message to draw people back to Marymount, which has been a win-win for everyone from that perspective. I managed to try to remain very active in terms of having a presence in the faith formation of people in various dioceses, particularly our own, which allows me to see what happens with other places of the country — see what your needs are, bring some of that back to enrich our Program. At the same time, I take my own research, my love of faith, my love of Marymount, my own academic preparation and my religious vocation, and bring that to a variety of other areas around the country and the world in order to promote that faith formation, which is at the heart of a Catholic school.
What do you hope to achieve for this academic year?
My goals for this year center on two primary things. We have a group of students who started in the Catholic School Leadership Program in 2022, who will for the most part graduate in May. I am looking forward to taking that group through my ED 586 class in the fall, and at the same time helping them prepare for their internships in the spring. For their ED 593 class, I will also be working with them on their proposals and school visits, which will serve as their capstone experience for the Program. In addition to that, I am very happy to help other members of our School of Education as we are looking to take the CSLP and develop it so it not only has the Catholic component, but will more readily meet the needs of the public and private school applicants who might be interested in coming to the Program.