More time for praying, fishing for longtime superintendent

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Sister of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Bernadette McManigal, diocesan superintendent of schools, knows numbers. Along with her education and theology degrees, she holds a bachelor's in mathematics and has taken graduate-level math courses. When she retires June 30, her eight-year legacy in the Arlington Diocese also will be reflected partially in figures: Student enrollment has increased during her time at the helm and 18 diocesan schools have received the Blue Ribbon Award from the U.S. Department of Education.

Behind the numbers, however, is the unquantifiable love she has for children and the satisfaction she finds in supporting the teachers and administrators who educate them.

"My favorite part of the job is going out to the schools, seeing the students at science fairs or at other programs," said Sister Bernadette, who will retire to her order's motherhouse in Dubuque, Iowa. "I love to see the fruits of what the teachers and administrators are doing."

In an interview in her chancery office, Sister Bernadette said that the role of superintendent is "one step back from principal and two steps back from teaching," but that it's essential to stay connected to what's happening in the schools. "If you don't keep in contact, you don't know what schools are going through, you don't hear where teachers are struggling or succeeding," she said.

Previously superintendent for the Diocese of Lexington, Ky., Sister Bernadette said being successful at the job means striking a balance between staying attuned to the schools and "keeping an eye and ear out" for national trends in education and developments in instructional strategies.

Looking back on her time in Arlington, she said she's most proud of the growth in enrollment, especially given many U.S. Catholic schools are experiencing a drop in numbers.

"The ability to provide a Catholic education to more children" is something to celebrate, she said, quickly giving credit to the "hard work of diocesan administrators, principals and teachers."

"The challenge is always how we can accomplish what we want with limited resources and without adding too many burdens on administrators - so we use the resources we have well and find ways to be creative.

"I would hope that I've left a strong school system with excellent staff and with an office that provides good help to our schools," added Sister Bernadette. "I hope that I've made a strong foundation for the next person to build upon."

Jennifer Bigelow, a principal in Raleigh, N.C., will step into the role July 5. During her decades in Catholic education, Bigelow has served on several diocesan planning committees and has presented workshops at the National Catholic Educational Association.

Sister Bernadette said she looks forward to a retirement living in community with around 170 sisters at her order's motherhouse, Mount Carmel. Overlooking the Mississippi River, the spot is ideal for one of the hobbies she hasn't had much time for - fishing. "I sometimes eat the fish or throw them back," she said, her eyes twinkling.

With retirement also comes the chance to put aside her concerns about numbers, from enrollment to finances, and focus on reading, prayer and her relationship with God. "What I'm most looking forward to is just being," said Sister Bernadette, "to do some praying, and to just have time to be."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016