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New Eastside Catholic president is nationally renowned educator
Some people might say it was just coincidence that it happened on Christmas eve.
"I was sitting in Washington Dulles airport, the day before Christmas, and the snow was really coming down. I was trying to get back home to Spokane for Christmas. That was when John Luger called, and asked if I would be interested in the Head of School position at Eastside Catholic."
For Sister Mary E. Tracy, the timing of Luger's call was something more than a coincidence. Luger is a prominent member of the Eastside Catholic community, and since the announcement that current school President Jim Kubacki would leave the position in June, 2010, he had been on the lookout for just the right replacement.
With an esteemed career in Catholic education which included 15 years as the Principal of Holy Names Academy in Seattle and another decade and a half at the National Catholic Educators Association (NCEA) in Washington D.C., her post at the time, Sister Tracy wasn't really looking for a new job.
But as soon as she hung up the phone, sitting in the airport in D.C., the idea of returning to her native state, and the thrill of a new challenge, began to take root.
"I honestly think its God's will," she said, when The Reporter sat down with her for a few moments during her first day on Eastside Catholic soil on Monday.
For Sister Tracy, following God's will has been the theme of her life for many years, from when as a young woman she was first drawn to the community of Catholic Sisters in Seattle in the early 1970s.
Raised in Western Washington by a "very Catholic" father and a not-so-Catholic mother, Sister Tracy came to Catholicism very much of her own will.
"I was really drawn to the field of Catholic education," she said. "And at that time, the sisters were very focused on education. It was a very turbulent time, in 1971. We'd just experienced Vatican II (the 21st Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church, in 1962), the Vietnam War was going on. It was a period of tremendous activism, and I was interested in making a difference, in my community and in the world."
Sister Tracy said the sisters in Seattle were very involved in political action in their community - one of the sisters was running for Congress at the time.
"God really led me," she said. "I knew this was the vocation for me."
Inspired by the activism of the time, as a postulant Sister Tracy campaigned for Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern, who lost the 1972 presidential election to Richard Nixon.
"While I'm not really sure if the sisters approved of that or not, they gave me my space, which helped me find my way over the years."
In the decades between then and now, Sister Tracy became one of the preeminent figures in Catholic education in America.
In 1993 she received one of six national NCEA awards for “Extraordinary Success in School Leadership.” In 1995, she was honored with the Mary G. Taylor Outstanding Educator Award.
Civic involvement and volunteering are an integral part of Sister Tracy's personal mission, and in 2005 she travelled to Lesotho, South Africa, to continue the Holy Names program of work there, building schools and health clinics, and developing educational opportunities for young children.
But there is more to Sister Tracy than the expected Catholic missionary. The arts are a big part of her life, both as a painter and great admirer of other artists.
Though she loves the French Impressionists like Monet, Renior and Sisley, and the old masters like Caravaggio, Sister Tracy is also moved by the tremendous talent of the more modern masters of the American Northwest, painters like Kenneth Callahan, Mark Tobey and William Cumming.
And as soon as she is able to find her new home east of Lake Sammamish, Sister Tracy will set up her easels and brushes and continue to paint as she has for years.
But, of course, these are tough times for schools, public and private. And though Eastside Catholic is not subject to the whims of government funding that are threatening the Issaquah and Lake Washington School Districts at present, fundraising is an issue for private schools nonetheless.
During tough economic times, business and private donors tend to pull the purse strings a little tighter.
"We have a beautiful campus here, a really beautiful facility," Sister Tracy said. "But there is some financial attention that needs to be paid, in terms of philanthropy and fundraising."
The new Head of School also wants to closely examine the school's admissions and enrollment focus.
"Schools are sometimes concerned with just the numbers of students they attract, like a store focuses on customers," she said. "I believe we need to attract not only the numbers, but also the students who will make the best use of the resources we have to offer. Whether it is the musicians, the athletes, artists, historians... We want the students who become physicists, Olympians, win Nobel Prizes."
Sister Tracy's is a grand vision. When she takes over the reins full-time at Eastside Catholic in April, it will mark the beginning of a new era for the Crusaders.