There haven’t been many years of Harry A. Plummer’s adult life that didn’t circle around a Catholic school.
None of it has been outside the Church. Plummer, now a father of eight — ages 12 to 29 — is the confident but humble freshman superintendent for the Diocese of Phoenix. He formally began serving in June with activity kicking into high gear as students and teachers returned to school in early August.
While students and parents soaked up the first words and impressions of new classroom teachers this month, Plummer could still recall the six words he read during college that changed his life: Help the community. Be a tutor. Twenty-four letters — not even a full alphabet — set off a domino effect only the Holy Spirit could have planned.
The college junior on an English literature track answered the bus ad and began tutoring at a neighborhood public school.
“It so moved me that I changed my major,” the education convert said.
Now Plummer has 15 years of diverse Catholic school leadership under his belt. He has served everywhere from a Native American reservation in Standing Rock, South Dakota where he lived in a farmer’s basement without a phone, TV or easy access to fast food without crossing a state line, to superintendent for the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings, Montana to overseeing Catholic education and faith formation in Indianapolis.
“I could breathe with both of my professional lungs,” Plummer said. He holds master’s degrees in theology and educational
The new superintendent admired Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted’s leadership for years before coming to Arizona. His most recent role: headmaster of Ville de Marie Academy in south Scottsdale. The K-12 independent Catholic school draws more than 150 students Valleywide including his two youngest.
Speaking as a parent of five boys and three girls, Plummer said Catholic schools “have helped us, the primary educators, develop in our children the tools, the temperaments and the tenacity to become successful, contributive members of society and to bring into the world a living, active faith — the kind of faith that can change culture.”
Plummer plans to continue that tradition across the diocese’s 28 preschools, 28 elementary schools and five high schools. A sixth diocesan high school is due to welcome students during Plummer’s sophomore year.
Meanwhile, St. Mary’s High School ushered in its second century of higher Catholic education in the diocese Aug. 7. The diocese’s head superintendent joined students for Mass on day one.
Years of teaching plus time as executive director of the Secretariat of Catholic Education and Faith Formation for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis has Plummer relishing student interaction.
“It’s wonderful to watch how children are surprised by God,” said Plummer, who also taught chess at Ville de Marie.
“My favorite part of the day is when I’m out at the morning drop off. I get a chance to have casual conversation with the parents. I like to greet the children in the morning,” Plummer said in his final weeks at Ville de Marie. “Sometimes you hear ‘Please pray for ….’”
It’s that desire for prayer and the element of faith that often draws teachers from charter and public schools to the faith-based ones, he said. Catholic schools are places where students of all ages — and many faiths, especially in high school — learn how to be smart, successful and to distinguish the good, beautiful and true from earthly vices, Plummer said.
It’s now his mission to guide teachers and administrators in doing that in whatever shape that occurs.