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Mother-son principals have zeal for Catholic education

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PORTLAND, Ore. - They're the only mother-son principals in the history of Oregon Catholic schools. And go figure - both have impeccable comic timing.

Sue Harris, 57, is principal of St. Cecilia School in Beaverton and the mother of Chris Harris, the 34-year-old head of St. Agatha School in Portland.

"We have our own styles and our own schools, but I treasure the time we have to work together as colleagues," said Chris, who two years ago left a teaching post in Burien, Wash., to bring his young family closer to grandma and grandpa.

"We agreed on that idea," said Sue, flashing a thumbs-up.

Not that they don't compete. A worker at St. Agatha found an old trophy and spruced it up with an inscription that said "Principal's Cup." When the St. Agatha Storm and St. Cecilia Cyclone meet on the basketball or volleyball court, the prize goes to the winning school until the next contest.

"We are the only two weather-related mascots in the archdiocese," Chris said. "And we're proud of that."

Both are aware, Sue painfully so, that St. Agatha was founded 105 years ago and St. Cecilia 103 years ago. "I'm never going to catch up," she said.

Mostly, the mother-son principal duo love and respect each other and have zeal for Catholic education. Both attended Catholic schools before choosing to teach.

"It's a real privilege and blessing for me to be able to see Chris - I would not say follow in these footsteps - but be part of that same passionate draw that Catholic education really brings to you," Sue said.

Chris wanted to be a teacher even as a boy. He would round up the neighborhood kids, bring them into the playroom and conduct class. He recalls watching his mother at school assemblies and was impressed with the way she carried herself.

He recalls summer road trips as a boy. He and his brother would peer into the front seat to see their mother writing up a master plan. He remembers seeing a blueprint of Portland's St. John Fisher School spread on the dining room table.

"I learned how to be a leader by osmosis," said Chris, adding that his mother taught him the importance of balance, making sure there is ample family time. Sue and husband Brad, who have been married for 36 years, saw to it that the family had dinner together as often as possible. If Sue had a night meeting, she came home to put the boys to bed.

They say they learn from each other. Sue has years of experience. Chris is navigating a new era of leading Catholic schools with young eyes.

Both mother and son have chosen Catholic schools because they believe in faith-based education and appreciate the variety and homeyness of the work.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016