Celebrating the outstanding achievements of our schools and students

By Pamela Lyons

When I began first grade at Our Lady of Mercy School in Plainview, New York, I had to take the school bus for the first time. OLM didn’t have a kindergarten then, so I attended the local public-school kindergarten a few blocks from home. Riding on the bus to school made me feel like I was traveling hundreds of miles from my mother, which did not sit well with me. I sobbed every morning of my first week of school. My mother had to drag me onto the bus in the morning, and my teacher, Sister Suzanne, must have had the patience of a saint never to lose patience with me and my extreme homesickness. I vividly remember the pastor, Father Bosell, picking me up to console me. Years later, my mother shared with me that during those first five days of first grade, she used to call the principal about 30 minutes after school started so Sister Kathleen could let her listen in on the intercom to prove that my crying had stopped.

Luckily, after the first week, I realized that I would return home every day after school ended and that I loved first grade. That year started my lifelong love of Catholic education. Since then, I have spent 44 of the past 49 years attending or working in a Catholic school, so the Sisters of Mercy did something right. My faith has always been there for me, and I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to serve God, not only in my personal life but also in my professional life.

As I prepare to step down from my position as superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of San Francisco at the end of this school year, I have reflected on all that Catholic education means to me. I believe “Catholic schools are at the heart of the Church.” This quote from “The Catholic School on the Threshold of the New Millennium” has driven my work with the Archdiocese of San Francisco schools. Catholic education is the greatest form of evangelization that the Church currently has. My role as superintendent has been to sustain the work of the Church by supporting our presidents, principals, teachers and staff spiritually and professionally, creating a climate where Christ is at the center of all we do and ensuring that every aspect of the school, from finance to discipline, is driven by our mission.

Outside my office in the chancery, I have photos of the eight foundresses of the most significant orders who came to San Francisco in the early days of our Archdiocese. These fantastic women willingly went to the “Wild West,” often not knowing the language, to overcome incredible obstacles to build the schools that continue serving our students and families. Every day, I look at these photos to remind myself that I am carrying on the work of these incredible women, and I have taken that responsibility seriously.

I am proud of my work over the past seven years and wish whoever succeeds me much success and happiness. He or she will be lucky to serve the amazing families, students, faculty and staff of the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

In this Catholic San Francisco magazine issue, we prepared articles reflecting the four domains of the National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools. The NSBECS were published in 2012 as a guide and assessment tool for PK-12 Catholic school effectiveness and sustainability. They include research-based school effectiveness criteria unique to Catholic school mission and identity. The Archdiocese of San Francisco schools are fully implementing the NSBECS to align with our new accreditation protocol that will be released by the Western Catholic Education Association next school year. In this magazine, you will find articles on mission & Catholic identity, governance & leadership, academic excellence and operational vitality. For those reading this magazine who are already part of our Catholic school community, I hope you can join us in celebrating the outstanding achievements of our schools and students during this Catholic Schools Week. For those of you who are not yet a part of our Catholic school family, I invite you to visit a Catholic school and experience all they offer. We are dedicated to our mission to grow our students’ understanding that they are God’s beloved so they may fully realize God’s plan for them. Come partner with us in bestowing on your child a gift that will be invaluable throughout their lives: the gift of faith.

Pamela Lyons is the superintendent of the Department of Catholic Schools for the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

This column was originally published in the January 2024 issue of Catholic San Francisco.