The new president and chief executive officer of Catholic Education Arizona, Nancy Padberg, dominates the field when it comes to business savvy.

And if taking CEA to the next level equates to decision-making on the golf course, this former Big 12 collegiate golfer is all “fore” it.

Padberg said a round of golf is a great conversation tool that offers friendly competition and “builds relationships.”

She has golfed with clients at Pebble Beach, Riviera Country Club in southern California, Scotland and attended the Masters Tournament.

“We set our sights high, so to speak, for a new chief executive officer,” said Harry Plummer, Diocese of Phoenix superintendent of schools. “We wanted a practicing Catholic passionate about the mission of Catholic school education; an experienced, highly motivated person with a well-established record of leadership, teamwork and success. I think we hit the jackpot with Nancy Padberg.”

Padberg has been in leadership roles with media and marketing firms in Santa Monica, California, and San Francisco, most recently with Hearst Media, leading the go-to-market strategy for education.

She won a spot in the Hearst’s Diamond Club multiple times as well as President’s Club with over $3.5 million in new contracts during her tenure. She was also a Los Angeles Business Journal’s “Women Making a Difference” nominee.

Originally from the Midwest, Padberg earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications from Iowa State in 1988 and currently serves on the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communications and Rutgers University Big Data advisory boards.

She earned a master’s degree from Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business where she previously served five years on the university’s advisory board.

“We are thrilled to have Nancy lead Catholic Education Arizona,” said Melissa Soza Fees, CEA board chairwoman. “The schools, the staff and the board of directors were all so taken with Nancy’s commitment to the mission and her servant-leadership philosophy. She brings an impressive skill set between her MBA and her digital marketing expertise, and she will be a great leader for the CEA Team.”

Padberg said she believes God’s providence led her to Arizona — for the second time — but her first trip was monumental.

After taking an advertising and marketing internship with the Arizona Republic right out of college, an encounter changed her life.

“I wanted to meet a Midwest Catholic boy, and God heard me,” Padberg said, adding she’s been married to her husband, David, for 29 years and they have a grown daughter, Nina, whom they adopted.

Padberg and her four siblings grew up in Iowa, where she attended a Catholic elementary and high school and was intimately connected to her church.

“I came from an active Catholic family,” she said. “My grandfather built the altar at St. Patrick’s Church in Cedar Rapids, and he was an usher there for 40 years. It’s very meaningful.”

Padberg and her husband passed the love of their faith on to their daughter, who attended St. Monica elementary and high school in Santa Monica. Nina played volleyball, led retreats and was an altar server at the parish.

When Nina was 16 the family transferred out of state, Padberg said, and their daughter’s Catholic high school embraced her.

“Time and time again, we see that thread that runs throughout our lives; how a Catholic community embraces others, the love that is shown and the welcome they express,” she said.

It’s a thread that now connects the couple to parish life at All Saints in Mesa where her father, Lee Shonka, attends and is a member of the Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus.

Padberg said the parish has surrounded him with love and support since her mother’s death seven years ago.

“All Saints gives him energy, vibrancy and vitality … from the spaghetti nights to the doughnut mornings, it’s such a great community they built, and I believe it’s strengthened him in so many ways. I can’t say enough about their community or what Catholic communities do for people.”

And she has made it her mission to see that other families desiring a Catholic education for their children receive one.

Catholic Education Arizona is the largest provider of scholarships to low-income families attending private schools.

Since its inception in 1998, the generosity of local individual and corporate contributors has allowed CEA to continually increase scholarship funding for Catholic schools, beginning with students of families with the greatest need.

Last year $17.1 million in contributions were made to assist nearly 50 percent of school students.

To date, $200 million in tuition scholarships has been awarded to 117,000 lower-income families with qualified financial need.

“It’s a privilege to serve here in the diocese and touch so many lives — change lives — and strengthen communities,” Padberg said. “This is about valuing people, every day, and thinking about how we can add value to their lives. It could be a smile, listening or supportive encouragement and it all comes back to kindness which crosses all ages, cultures and backgrounds.”