July 2, 2021

‘God put me in the right places,’ retiring superintendent says

In this photo from 2013, then-assistant superintendent of Catholic schools Mary McCoy returned for a visit to St. Philip Neri School in Indianapolis, where she had previously served as principal. Here, she visits with Aylee Gomez, then a student at the school. (Submitted photo)

In this photo from 2013, then-assistant superintendent of Catholic schools Mary McCoy returned for a visit to St. Philip Neri School in Indianapolis, where she had previously served as principal. Here, she visits with Aylee Gomez, then a student at the school. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

Mary McCoy insists she is not an emotional person, but her tears flow when she talks about her 30 years as an educator in the archdiocese, including the past year as interim superintendent of Catholic schools.

When she is asked about her thoughts as she looks back on these 30 years, she says through her tears, “Don’t make me cry. I think about what a wonderful career I’ve had, how blessed I’ve been. And I wouldn’t have changed anything. God put me in the right places, and this is where I was led to be. It’s been a great run.”

McCoy’s 30-year run as a teacher, a principal and an administrator in the archdiocese will end on Aug. 26 when she retires. Until then, she will once again serve in her previous role as an assistant superintendent, working with Brian Disney who became the new superintendent on July 1. (Related story: ‘Faith and Family, Teach and Lead’ guide new superintendent)

McCoy’s last year has been one for the history books as she helped navigate the 68 Catholic schools in central and southern Indiana through the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

McCoy stepped into the position of interim superintendent in July of 2020 when former superintendent Gina Fleming made a career change. And one of McCoy’s defining qualities is revealed in how she describes this past school year.

She praises “the amazing work of our principals and teachers and how they endured the challenges” of the pandemic to provide a quality Catholic education to students.

She also uses the word “we” constantly, talking about the collaboration of leadership that was formed between her and Rob Rash and Michelle Radomsky— the two assistant superintendents—and Peggy Elson, interim director of the archdiocese’s Notre Dame ACE Academies.

Talking about the teachers, principals and her fellow administrators, McCoy says, “I’ll remember how we approached the pandemic and how successful we were in spite of the challenges we faced. And how, for the most part, we kept our kids in school.

“We have lived through this pandemic and have really come out stronger people through it all. And we’ll continue to be able to provide that quality Catholic education. If we can do it during a pandemic, we can do it whenever.”

‘The most rewarding years of my career’

Still, McCoy’s most fulfilling and defining time as an educator may have been during a seven-year stretch from 2006 to 2013 at St. Philip Neri School in Indianapolis, where she served as principal.

“Those were probably the most rewarding years of my career,” she says. “It was a large Latino community. I learned so much about the Latino community and built relationships with the people there. They were the most loving, welcoming people, and they truly appreciated that their kids were in a Catholic school. I really put myself in the middle of that community. I tried to learn about their culture.”

Her education in the Latino culture included accepting an eye-opening invitation from her administrative assistant at the time, Maria Lomeli.

“She taught me so much about her community and her culture. She invited me and my daughter Kaylee to go to Tala, Mexico, where many of our families came from. One summer, we spent 10 days in Tala and stayed in her sister’s house. We lived in the community. That’s what truly gained me the trust of the community, knowing I had been to Tala, knowing I had been where many of our families had lived.”

That trip to Mexico was a long way from where McCoy’s journey into the education world began.

‘She rose beautifully to the occasion’

The third of seven children in a family that grew up in St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, McCoy started her teaching career as a child, in the basement of their house, a setting that included school desks.

“I was the teacher to my younger brothers. Let’s say they tolerated me,” she says with a laugh.

After graduating from Roncalli High School and Indiana University in Bloomington, she started her professional career in 1984 as a third-grade teacher at St. Malachy School in Brownsburg. Four years later and pregnant with the first of her three children, she applied for a job closer to home, at St. Mark School. Her interview was with the principal, who had been her eighth-grade teacher—Annette “Mickey” Lentz, now the chancellor emeritus of the archdiocese.

“I was really nervous I wasn’t going to get the job,” McCoy recalls with a smile. “But she hired me, and she’s always been a great real model for me, as well as being a role model for many people.”

For Lentz, there was never a doubt about hiring her former student as a teacher—and later as an assistant superintendent in 2013 and then as interim superintendent in 2020.

“Mary’s a servant leader—always has been,” Lentz says. “She’s been committed to Catholic schools her whole life. She comes from a very strong and faith-filled family. I saw her potential and determination from day one. I have never regretted my decision to hire her at St. Mark or to bring her on board in the Office of Catholic Schools. 

“Mary has a great love for children, her own, her grandchildren and her former students. She has a special love for the students in our center-city schools. She has served the archdiocese well.

“A final example of that service is jumping into the interim superintendent position this year. Leading schools during the pandemic was not an easy task. She rose beautifully to the occasion. Mary remained strong, faithful and committed. She is a credit to her parents, family and the archdiocese.”

‘I was truly blessed’

As she nears her retirement, McCoy looks back on a career that also included teaching at Central Catholic School in Indianapolis from 1996 to 2003. She made that move because she wanted to make a difference in the center city, a move that reflects her continuing desire to challenge herself to do more.

“The moment we get stagnant and don’t continue to grow, we don’t make the impact we need to make,” she says.

At the same time, there has been one constant in her approach to education for the past 30 years.

“Always a love for the Church first,” she says. “My love for the faith and knowing I was truly blessed to have a career in the Catholic schools and with Catholic education. What kept me strong in my faith is that I started every day with prayer at school. And we ended every day with prayer. There’s nothing like teaching in the Catholic schools.”

She is also looking forward as she nears her retirement. It will mean more time with her husband of 36 years, Brian; more time with their three grown children and their two grandchildren.

Retirement will also offer her the opportunity to grow and make a difference in new ways—as a volunteer.

“St. Mark has started a ministry that reaches out to maturing adults, especially during COVID, who may have become homebound or have experienced loneliness,” says McCoy, a lifelong member of the parish. “I really would like to be involved in that, whether it’s doing visits or taking Communion or helping create activities for those who might not be able to get out—or even help them get to church.

“I just love being around people. That’s where I get my energy.”

Her energy has made a difference in the lives of Catholic school children for 30 years. †

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