Falls Church's Dan Curtin Prepares for NCEA Post

Nationally known school administrator Daniel F. Curtin has been named to a top post at the National Catholic Education Association (NCEA). A parishioner at St. Anthony Parish in Falls Church, Curtin has been Secretary for Catholic Education in the Washington Archdiocese since 1985. In his new position, Curtin will serve as executive director of a division supporting the nation's Catholic superintendents of schools, directors of religious education and diocesan vicar generals. He will begin in early August. The NCEA is the national association for Catholic educators. Among its 200,000 members are individual teachers and administrators, schools and dioceses, school boards, Catholic colleges and seminaries. Curtin's responsibilities for Cardinal James A. Hickey has been to oversee not only the archdiocese's 34,000-student school district, but also religious education, youth programs, campus ministry and other programs. This senior position followed nearly two decades of service at Mackin Catholic High School, where Curtin was a teacher, vice principal and principal. He also was acting President of Archbishop Carroll High School in 1989. But despite Curtin's long association with Washington Catholic schools, his roots run deep in the Arlington Diocese. A member of St. Anthony's for more than 40 years, he was a member of the parish school's second graduating (eighth grade) class in l955. St. Anthony's School was run by Precious Blood priests and sisters from its inception until 1989. Curtin said, "They were a great influence on all of us. They remained friends of our family for years." Four years ago, Curtin was presented with the school's Distinguished Graduate Award, a program sponsored, coincidentally, by the NCEA. The certificate was presented during Catholic Schools Week at Corpus Christi School, which was formed through a merger of St. Anthony's and St. Philip's schools 10 years ago. Curtin has been active with his parish at various points in his life. As a youth, he and his sister, Joanie, did phone duty and summer cleaning. Since 1993 he has been a member of the pastoral council. In this latter capacity, he has helped Father Horace "Tuck" Grinnell, pastor, the Corpus Christi school board and the Campaign 2000 planning committee, particularly on the renovation of the school. Principal George E. Chiplock, Jr., told the HERALD, "He's an outstanding resource to the school and the parish." Curtin was born in Washington, D.C., and attended elementary school at St. Stephen's and St. Ann's there before his family relocated to Falls Church. He graduated from Mackin High School and then went on to Mount St. Mary's College in Emmitsburg, Md. He recalls from his earliest school days that "it's the teaching of the faith that I remember most clearly." Mount St. Mary's remains a key institution in his life. In an interview with the HERALD, Curtin said, "The Mount gave me a lot that I will ever be grateful for. They gave me self confidence, the Catholic faith and showed me how to be of help to others. It's hard to put in words, but it's the Mount spirit." In return, the college has honored him. This year he was the recipient of the 35th annual Brute medal, given to an alumnus for outstanding service and named after one of the school's co-founders. Also, after serving on the board of trustees since 1989, he was elected its chairman three months ago. Among the many other religious and educational honors that Curtin has earned, the most notable is clearly the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice award that he received from Pope John Paul II in 1984. It was given in recognition of his service to the Church. Curtin says his 32-year career in education has been inspired by the Brothers of Holy Cross, "who gave me a chance to go back to my alma mater to teach;" by the late Brother Ralph Jaworksy, C.S.C., a father figure who served as principal at Mackin; and the late Thomas W. Lyons, an auxiliary bishop of Washington from 1974 to 1988. But, he adds, "The greatest honor in my career so far has been working for Cardinal Hickey. He's done so much for Catholic education, not only for the archdiocese, but for Catholic education across the country." The cardinal clearly admires Curtin. "For the past 14 years, he has been my eyes, ears and hands in the world of Catholic education and formation," the Cardinal said. He devoted his April 29 column in the Catholic Standard diocesan paper exclusively to Curtin's legacy. But both Cardinal Hickey and his colleagues respect him for personal attributes as well as a commitment to Catholic education. Susan Gibbs, the archdiocese's director of communication, said, "He's a great guy. He loves children. He's easy to work with. I really think the world of him." Curtin brings to his new position several keen observations on the state of Catholic education. He said, for example, "As we begin the next century, Catholic education is stronger than it ever was. Academically, it's much stronger. Teachers are much more professional. "We're going to see Catholic schools increase across the country. Financially, we still have more work to do, but we have development programs in place." Another challenge that he will work on at the NCEA will be how to adequately train lay teachers and administrators to be committed to the mission of Catholic schools. The shift from religious to lay stewardship of Catholic schools has been dramatic during his career. He pointed out in the early 1970s there were about 800 religious sisters in the archdiocese's schools. Today, there are only 115 out of the 2,000 teachers and staff. Mackin was administered by the Brothers of Holy Cross, and Curtin became part of the new trend when he was named principal in 1976; he was the first lay principal in any of the 25 schools run by that order. Also of interest to Curtin in his new position will be capitalizing on greater parental involvement. "Parents," he said, "are much more involved in Catholic schools. We have seen the rising importance of school advisory boards at the diocesan and school levels. "When you have people involved, you have people who take ownership. Parents can provide financial expertise, marketing skills and other help. They were instrumental in raising money and offering sound advice for Archbishop Carroll High School." Finally, he's looking forward to the challenge of working with the so-called "big ten" group of school superintendents who represent the nation's 10 archdioceses with the largest Catholic school enrollment. Perhaps Cardinal Hickey spoke for many of Curtin's friends in the Washington Archdiocese, the Arlington Diocese and elsewhere, when he wrote in his column, "Dan, may the Lord bless you for all you have done and in all the challenges that lie ahead." Esposito, who lives in Springfield, writes on religion, public policy and history.

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