Written by Mary Beth Peabody
It’s hard to imagine a leadership quality Sister Marianne McCann does not possess. Recipient of the 2018 Diocese of Camden “Lead. Learn. Proclaim. Award,” Sister Marianne has been principal at Paul VI High School in Haddonfield since 2001. Her dedicated and inspirational service began when she joined the school as an English teacher and assistant principal in 1975.
“Sister doesn’t live in the here and now; Sister sees three years, five years and even longer into the future. In the 21st century her vision included electronic texts and student iPad use long before other schools,” said Lea Pittman, Social Studies Department chair at Paul VI High School in Haddonfield. “She exemplifies the role of Catholic teacher, forward-thinking leader and religious role model.”
“Sister Marianne’s vision was forward-thinking in the arts curriculum at Paul VI. The dance studio, where students could perform in an academic setting, helped grow the enrollment at Paul VI,” said the school’s president, Michael Chambers.
Chambers and Sister Marianne have a long history. A PVI alum, Chambers never had Sister Marianne as a teacher but knew her from his time on student council.
“The transition from being a student to a colleague was unique,” he said. “Sister Marianne helped pull me in a direction to further my professional development and education. She has been a pillar of unwavering support as I transitioned from a student to a Catholic school teacher, to an administrator, and now as [PVI] president.”
Chambers’ praise comes as no surprise to schools superintendent Mary Boyle. “Sister’s greatest asset is her ability to recognize and mentor for leadership among her staff and student bodies,” said Boyle. “Among her ‘student offspring’ are the Bishop of the Diocese of Metuchen (Bishop James F. Checchio), the Vicar General of the Diocese of Camden (Father Robert E. Hughes), as well as the Director of Vocations for the Diocese of Camden (Father Michael M. Romano).”
“The staff at Paul VI describe Sister as extremely visionary and talented… and keenly aware of the details a vision entails,” added Boyle. “Sister is willing to jump in with hard work and her own elbow grease. There is not one position at Paul VI she is not capable of doing. Her energy and commitment are unwavering.”
“Four and a half. Maybe 5.” That’s the age at which Sister Marianne said she knew she would become a teacher. “I was precocious. I was a public schooler… It probably comes with being bossy,” she said of her chosen career path.
The decision to enter religious life was not far behind. In sixth grade Sister Marianne made the move to Villa Walsh Academy in Morristown, where the Religious Teachers Filippini taught and inspired her through high school. Combining religious life with a teaching career seemed like a natural fit. And it still does.
“I’ve never lost my love for teaching. Still today, above all I love being in the classroom. It takes me directly to young people.” said Sister Marianne, who took on an extended substitute role just last fall. A favorite plaque in her office reads ‘To teach is to touch a life forever.’ “It’s so true. And that’s the beauty of the classroom,” she said.
As principal, Sister Marianne said she loves to concentrate on what’s next, always thinking about what the school needs to do to keep moving forward. In that role, she still connects with students.
“She has taught me to be self-reliant, to never hold others responsible for my mistakes,” said PVI junior Jack Jablonoski, a Student Council member. “We strive to make the school a great place for education, and Sister Marianne gives us the tools we need,” he added.
Fellow Student Council representative Grace Narducci described Sister Marianne as the ideal leader. “The love and dedication that Sister has poured into Paul VI is remarkable and inspiring. Never have I met someone who is as quick on her feet… She truly cares about each and every student,” said Grace.
For more than four decades, Sister Marianne has seen students come and go at Paul VI. She has taught multiple generations in many families.
“I think this is one of the most idyllic places where you can teach. Maybe it’s [the students’] Catholic school training. Maybe it’s the fact they come from families where parents choose Catholic schools. I find the kids as beautiful as they were 30 years ago, as wonderful to talk to, as interested in service,” said Sister Marianne. “Incidentals — like computers and cell phones — those things change. The students don’t.”
Mary Beth Peabody is Communications and Marketing Manager, Office of Catholic Schools, Diocese of Camden.