Sr. Mary Jordan heading west

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Dominican Sister Mary Jordan Hoover, founding principal of Saint John Paul the Great Catholic High School in Dumfries, will be leaving the Arlington Diocese in July to establish a new Catholic high school in the Diocese of Phoenix.

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted announced March 22 that the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia will establish a community in Phoenix and will lead the newly established St. John Paul II Catholic High School. It will serve the community in the far West Valley beginning in Fall 2018.

Dominican Sisters Mary Brigid Burnham, currently the Religious Department Chair at Mount de Sales Academy in Baltimore, Md., and Mary Gertrude Blankenhagen, currently serving as principal of Overbrook School in Nashville, Tenn., will establish the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia's presence in Phoenix.

"Sister Mary Jordan is a trailblazer," said Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde. "She has served the Diocese of Arlington as founding principal of Saint John Paul the Great High School since 2007, and has done so with profound faith, exemplary leadership, and humility. I join the students and parents of Saint John Paul the Great in echoing our gratitude for her service to our diocesan church."

The Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia are committed to remaining in the diocese and serving Saint John Paul the Great. Mother General Ann Marie Karlovic will propose a new principal to Bishop Loverde, who will then make the official appointment in the near future.

"Sister Mary Jordan has been outstanding in forming a strong Catholic high school," said Sister Bernadette McManigal, Arlington's superintendent of schools. "Saint John Paul the Great School is flourishing because of her leadership. The Diocese of Phoenix will greatly benefit from her experience as she spearheads the opening of another Catholic high school."

"I am grateful to God, Bishop Loverde, and my superiors for the opportunity to have served as the first principal of our great high school," said Sister Mary Jordan. "Being part of the establishment of Saint John Paul the Great has been the high point for me as an educator. I'm proud of this place, its Catholic culture, our exceptional faculty, our friendly students, and our dedicated families. I wish to thank the John Paul community: parents, students, faculty, staff, and many, many friends. Together we have worked hard and built something great for God. I love Saint John Paul the Great and I love the people who are part of it."

Bishop Olmstead said he is grateful to God for the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia and their commitment to establishing a new presence in Phoenix. "Their community has been committed to Catholic education and evangelizing children and their parents since their founding more than 155 years ago," he said. "We are blessed to have their contributions to the mission of the Church at St. John Paul II Catholic High School and the surrounding communities."

The Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, commonly referred to as the "Nashville Dominicans" due to their historical roots in the city dating back to 1860, are acclaimed for their expertise in Catholic education and for their academic and spiritual leadership.

In 1860, four Dominican Sisters from Ohio established a school in the Diocese of Nashville. In 1913, the Congregation of Saint Cecilia was affiliated formally with the Dominicans. Since then, the Nashville Dominicans have continued to expand, establishing schools and ministries throughout the United States, as well as in Australia, Scotland and the Netherlands. They presently serve in 43 schools, teaching more than 15,000 students.

In the Arlington Diocese, the Dominican sisters staff St. Thomas Aquinas Regional School in Woodbridge in addition to Saint John Paul the Great High School.

"Our community is excited about being part of the life of the church in the Diocese of Phoenix," said Sister Mary Jordan, who also serves as superior of Aquinas Convent in Woodbridge. "We look forward to meeting the people, especially the families who will one day be part of St. John Paul II Catholic High School."

The Phoenix community will meet Sister Mary Jordan at an April 5 event in celebration of the new high school. A short program will include a blessing of the campus grounds by Bishop Olmsted and an unveiling of a sign marking the site of the new school, which is adjacent to St. Thomas Aquinas Church.

"We are delighted and blessed to be welcoming the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia," MaryBeth Mueller, superintendent of Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Phoenix, said. "Students and families who are contemplating St. John Paul II Catholic High School can look forward to an environment that enriches the hearts and minds of our future leaders."

Sister Mary Jordan was named principal of Saint John Paul the Great High School in May 2007, more than a year before the new school opened. Bishop Loverde blessed the school in August 2008.

At that time, Sister Mary Jordan called John Paul the Great "a 21st century Catholic school" modeled after a pope who encouraged youths to "be not afraid to follow Christ."

The school differs from other diocesan schools because of its foundation in the Dominican tradition, she said. "We believe Catholic education changes people, it makes a difference in their life. That's why we're happy to be here today and to be part of this inaugural year."

Prior to arriving in Arlington, Sister Mary Jordan served as principal of St. Henry School in Nashville for three years. Before entering the convent, she taught global studies, world geography, sociology and psychology at Northeastern High School in Manchester, Pa., from 1990-91.

She has a master's degree in secondary education and social studies from Millersville University in Pennsylvania; a master's degree in educational administration and leadership from Northwestern University of Louisiana; an master's in theology from Franciscan University in Steubenville in 2012; and catechetical certification from the Diocese of Nashville.

Raised in Harrisburg, Pa., she said her eyes were first opened to her religious vocation when she spent a "semester at sea" traveling to many developing countries, including India, China and Japan.

This experience was life-changing, she said, because it enabled her to think outside of her own neighborhood and outside the U.S. "During that time I started listening to God," she said. "During that time my desire to serve the church as a sister increased."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016