By CORRIE PELC, Valley Community Newspapers writer
After 11 years of service, St. Francis High School’s first-ever president, Marion Bishop, will retire on May 31, leaving behind a legacy that includes a capital campaign, technology, campus ministry, and a growth spurt in student population.
The ‘President-Principal Model’
In 2001 Bishop, who at the time was working in the Catholic Schools Department for the Diocese of Sacramento, was appointed president of St. Francis High School to bring the president-principal model to St. Francis that other Catholic schools in the area were already using. This model calls for a principal to handle the academics of the school and a president to handle the business side of the school, including fund raising.
“Research had indicated that a when a high school reaches an enrollment of 600 or more students that it really becomes impossible for a single administrator to take care of all the academic concerns of the campus, as well as all the business,” Bishop recalled. “St. Francis was at the threshold of that 600 students and it was time to move in to this new model. I just happened to be first in line to be hired to implement the new model.”
St. Francis’ current principal, Patrick O’Neill (who has been principal for three years and was assistant principal for two years before that), said the president-principal model that Bishop initiated was instrumental in the growth of St. Francis’ student body from 600 to now 1,100 students. Having this model allows him to effectively concentrate on the academics of the school, while having a compatriot handling the business side.
“Marion and I have clicked from Day One,” O’Neill said. “We see things the same way and she’s been outstanding to work for.”
As part of her role as president, Bishop played an integral role in the improvements made to the St. Francis campus over the years. For instance, when she first arrived in 2001, the school was beginning the first phase of a capital campaign to expand the campus.
“I was really privileged not only to be part of that capital campaign to raise monies to improve the campus and expand it, but also I oriented the expansion itself,” Bishop said. For example, she played a pivotal role in the development of the school’s current Performing Arts Center and gymnasium.
Throughout her 11 years Bishop continued to make improvements to St. Francis.
“She listened to the student body and what was going on in the education world, and then would be strategic in trying to weave that into the direction of the school, whether it be technology, safety or the green movement,” explained Shannon Terwedo, past St. Francis High School Board member whose daughter graduated from the school in 2007.
Past Board member Helen Pierson – whose two daughters graduated from St. Francis in 2000 and she herself graduated from the school in 1974 – said Bishop always had St. Francis’ best interest in mind in all the decisions she made and that she was someone who could see what was important for the school.
“It’s a challenge to have an all-girl high school and keep it running – a lot of different schools have had to go different ways and unfortunately some even had to close,” Pierson explained. “St. Francis has been very fortunate because of the leadership that has enabled it to stay above the water and keep itself as a place where young ladies want to go. It’s a great school and she’s been at the helm for many years and I think it’s because of that.”
One area Bishop focused on building upon during her tenure at St. Francis was in the school’s Campus Ministry Department.
“Under Marion’s leadership, she’s put a lot of work, emphasis and resources into building up our program so we have more of a holistic approach to ministry, to where it’s not just prayers and retreats, but also service and faith community life,” explained Director of Campus Ministry Linda Norman.
As part of the Campus Ministry Department, Bishop said one of her proudest accomplishments is the establishment of an integrated retreat program where each year’s class has their own retreat, culminating with a senior retreat (called Kairos) their final year.
“This for many of our girls is a life-changing four-day student-lead retreat experience,” Bishop explained. “It has been the single-most item that our graduating seniors comment on as their most significant moment at St. Francis, and so I’m very proud of that because I think it speaks to the whole person, the whole student, and what she’s taking with her when she leaves here. That’s one program I’m very, very proud of.”
Additionally, Bishop began a mother-daughter retreat program in 2003, which Terwedo attended with her daughter. Terwedo recalled Bishop attending this retreat and talking to the mothers and daughters about her own experiences.
“She shared her personal journey with her daughter and as a daughter herself – the good, the bad, the challenges of dealing with a daughter in in the teenage years,” she recalled. “She just took off the mantle of being president and put on the mantle of being a woman that was both a daughter and a mother.”
‘A huge heart’
Now on the eve of her retirement, Bishop is excited for the Disney cruise she, her husband of 42 years, and family will be taking, and then occupying her time with gardening, playing and praying.
“I do feel like I have another life in me somewhere,” she said. “I still feel very young although I’m at retirement age. I feel like there’s something else there and I’ve been praying a lot about what that is and how it’s going to express itself.”
Although she is looking forward to her retirement, Bishop said she will greatly miss the students and staff at St. Francis and that she hopes the school continues to grow and prepare the young women that attend to serve the greater community.
“When I came here, I hoped that I would really bring the school ‘heart’ and I think that I have done that and I’m very proud of that,” Bishop said. “I think the school has a huge heart and it shows itself in many, many ways.”