“School life is the classroom”

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Photo by Dave Hernandez Sister Marianne McCann, MPF, is retiring as Principal of Paul VI High School after 21 years. Since 1974, she has contributed to the spiritual and academic atmosphere of Haddonfield School as an administrator and teacher.

On a recent weekday morning, Ava Levario smiled as she walked up to trusted high school frontman Paul VI.

The first-year student pulled out her phone as she and her classmates formed a semi-circle around Sister Marianne McCann, MPF, principal of Haddonfield School.

Opening TikTok, Levario asked the group’s burning question to be used for a class history project. “Credit or debit? »

“Credit,” said the longtime educator, her smiling face and cheerful resolve captured on the video app.

In the closing days of the school year, students were eager to soak up all the wisdom they could before Sister Marianne left the halls of Paul VI. Sister Marianne – whose 48-year tenure has included the post of English teacher, deputy headmistress and, for the past 21 years, headmistress – announced in February that she would step down.

“She’s been an amazing principal,” Levario said as two student council members standing next to her agreed.

“Sister has always been a role model for me, stepping up, taking leadership and doing her best for the school,” said first-year vice president Kodie Malone. “[I’m] will miss his presence; she is always able to give us such great ideas and new perspectives to consider. I wish him the best.”

Quinton Cunningham, first-year secretary, was grateful to Sister Marianne “for guiding me in the right direction [and teaching] life lessons that I will always carry with me. It will be different without her. »

Lead by example

For nearly six decades, religion teacher Filippini was a guiding force for Paul VI’s Catholic education and the continued success of his students. Now Sister Marianne is ready for another challenge.

“I was lucky to be in good health; I have the best job in the world. Nothing [before] never made me think of leaving,” she explained. “But when I came back this year, I kind of felt that maybe it was time. We were at the right time in the life of Lycée Paul VI. … We have a good teaching faculty; we [completed] Accreditation of Intermediate States; we have another seven-year plan moving forward with the board. It’s a good time to say, “Someone else should get a chance.”

“It’s going to be a great opportunity, a great spiritual experience,” for his successor, she said. On June 6, it was announced that Philip J. Gianfortune, principal of Saint Michael the Archangel School, Clayton, had been appointed to the position.

Since 1974, Sister Marianne has enjoyed and contributed to the spiritual atmosphere of 901 Hopkins Road, motivated by a faith that flourished in her Brooklyn home, parish, and school. The eldest of a firefighter and devout housewife, she remembers Sunday masses at St. Bernadette Church and, even more vividly, the Filippini religious teachers who worked at the parochial school.

“They were among the greatest examples of wonderful, understanding teachers,” she explained, pointing to her sixth, seventh and eighth grade teacher, Sister Almerina.

“In each lesson, she would read us a certain book, whether it was ‘The Lives of the Saints’, etc.…” and would pick it up the next day, she said. It is this captivating reading, and creating suspense and curiosity for the next day, which marked her.

“I learned to teach from the way she taught us. She never raised her voice,” Sister Marianne said.

Desiring to live a life like her upbringing role models, she entered the Philippine order at age 14 and, six years later, took her first vows. She was first sent to Catholic schools in North Jersey, before driving down the toll road to the classrooms of Paul VI to teach English.

Lessons beyond the classroom

In 1978 she became deputy director, and since 2001 she has been the director. From the beginning, she has carried the work and mission of the Filippini religious teachers, who have been part of the school since its founding in 1966, when 18 sisters began ministry to students.

The united nature of the classroom, however, remains Sister Marianne’s passion, as evidenced by a sign in her office that reads “To teach is to touch a soul forever.”

“School life is the classroom,” she says. “Children here are like sponges, they want to learn. …When you look at all those eyes looking back, you know you have a special opportunity to train or help train another person.

The best teachers she knows, and what she has tried to do as an educator is “to make [students] see things from all angles, from different angles. … You’re not just teaching them facts, you’re helping them develop their thinking process. You make them think; you make them grow.

Freshman Angela DiDonato shares a laugh with Sister Marianne after asking her a question for a history project. (Photo by Dave Hernandez)

That learning went both ways, she said. “There were ideas that students presented in my classes, that I thought, ‘Wow, there’s another way of thinking.’ That’s a big part of teaching…students add to you.

There have also been obstacles over the years. Sister Marianne is quick to mention the recent COVID pandemic, which necessitated a period of virtual learning and remote classroom activities.

“It was the biggest challenge,” she explained, proud that “everyone in the school community stepped up” and grateful “to my faculty and administrators who rose to the challenge. . They were able to adapt in no time, changing school protocols.

Even through the difficulties, Sister Marianne did her best to maintain a hopeful attitude for the countless students who walked through the halls of the school. Individuals may carry their own lives, interests, and passions in their hearts, but together the student body wears the blue and white of the Paul VI uniform, a mark of Catholic faith, excellence, and opportunity.

“I believe in people…everyone is kind in their own way,” Sister Marianne said. “I am optimistic about the students’ ability to learn and understand. I know some struggles, but I know that even in their struggle they are capable of so much.

A friend and mentor

Those who know Sister Marianne say they will miss a wise and dedicated servant who has an eye for detail and a heart for students.

Stating that Sister Marianne “always taught with the mission of her order in mind and the mission of Paul VI in her heart,” Paul VI President Michael Chambers called her legacy a “vision… [she’s] always been at the forefront of education.

Sister Marianne sits with Michael Chambers, President of Paul VI, and other diocesan school leaders at a 2016 Trustees meeting in Mays Landing. (Photo by Mary Beth Peabody)

He began working with Sister Marianne in 1999, when he became assistant director for sports and student life. She “did not shy away from assisting all Catholic secondary schools in the diocese, sharing educational best practices and historical knowledge of Catholic education in the diocese,” Chambers said, recalling fondly her level. of preparation and his frank and honest advice.

Mary Boyle, former diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools, said the diocese owes a great debt to Sister Marianne and to her religious community.

Having worked with Sister Marianne for 15 years, Boyle remembers “an incredibly visionary woman [who] does everything possible because it believes in young people. She leaves a legacy that the young people of South Jersey are worth our efforts, to provide them with a quality Catholic education.

Dr Bill Watson, current superintendent of Catholic schools in the diocese and alumnus of Paul VI, said he will miss his wisdom, experience and commitment to excellence.

Aware of Sister Marianne’s expertise while a student in her AP English class, he praised the “gentle but firm manner in which she persisted in pursuing noble goals – whether for Paul VI or for an individual student – and to pursue them until they are accomplished. .”

Sister Marianne is not sure what will happen next, but she is positive not only for her future, but for the young women and men, present and future, who will spend years of formation at Paul VI.

“They are the future church, the future community, the future government,” she says.


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