Fr. Robert Bolding, shown here conversing with St. Mary’s HIgh School students, will serve as the school’s first president rector. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

St. Mary’s High School, the diocese’s oldest high school, is full of traditions. Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted introduced a new one.

He appointed Fr. Robert Bolding, the school’s chaplain and theology teacher, as its first President-Rector effective July 1. Fr. Bolding will work with Suzanne Fessler, principal, to more effectively fulfill the school’s mission of education and virtue formation.

The President-Principal approach to Catholic high school leadership improves attention to Catholic identity and mission and fosters more successful fundraising, better business and financial planning, and improved public relations, according to a report by the National Catholic Education Association.

“With this model, both the principal and the rector work closely together to provide a clear vision and effective leadership for the school,” the bishop said.

Some 55 percent of Catholic high schools similar to Saint Mary’s are using the President-Principal model nationwide. Brophy College Preparatory, Phoenix’s Jesuit high school, also uses the model.

MaryBeth Mueller, superintendent of the diocese’s Catholic schools, said adopting the president-principal approach exemplifies the bishop’s dedication to providing students a culture of faith, academics and service that prepares them to be proud Catholics, good citizens and people of faith.

Fr. Bolding sees the new positions as a way for himself and the principal to more fully apply their gifts and strengths.

“Mrs. Fessler is an excellent administrator. She will be able to apply herself to the educational aspects of our school, supervising instruction, working with teachers and students,” Fr. Bolding said.

I hope to have the ability to unite everybody involved with St. Mary’s High School, articulate the mission, help them understand what we’re about and where we’re going.”

It will be his job to focus on Catholic identity and mission, public relations and long-range planning. Fr. Bolding, who is starting his fourth year at the school, is excited to be able to build St. Mary’s tradition and communicate what that means. Central to his message will be that a Catholic education is critical now more than ever because it focuses on virtue formation.

“After the Incarnation, once God fully revealed Himself, there can’t be authentic education which ignores God’s revelation of Himself,” Fr. Bolding explained.

If the purpose of education is to form men and women to know the Truth and know the One who is True, then that has to be the beginning of all intellectual inquiry, he said.

“Everything else that we know is little glimpses of those central truths of God’s goodness and the love He reveals in Jesus Christ,” Fr. Bolding said.

As president-rector, Fr. Bolding will hold final responsibilities for all aspects of the school. He is completing a master’s degree in education administration at the University of Notre Dame next month.

Bishop Olmsted expressed his full confidence in Fessler’s and Fr. Bolding’s dedication to make the president-principal approach a successful venture.