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With Sister Patricia McCarron as headmistress, Notre Dame Preparatory School in Towson has overhauled curriculum, boosted enrollment and its endowment and received recognition as a top academic school. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

Notre Dame headmistress celebrated for leadership, compassion

Timid is not a word one would use to describe Sister Patricia McCarron, but aggressive certainly doesn’t fit, either.

Rather, the 52-year-old headmistress of Notre Dame Preparatory School comes across as powerful yet gentle, fearless yet humble. Her eagerness to fully participate in community life and embrace the Catholic faith — while encouraging others to do so — is immediately obvious, but it’s not overbearing.

There’s a delicate line between enthusiastic and overzealous — and McCarron’s admirers say she falls on the proper side. That should come as no surprise, though. McCarron is no rookie to the world of education, or to the art of leadership.

This year marks three significant anniversaries for the Baltimore native: It’s her 10th year as headmistress of Notre Dame Prep, an all-girls Catholic school in Towson; her 25th year as a member of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, an international congregation of educators; and the 30th anniversary of her first year teaching at NDP.

With McCarron at the helm, Notre Dame Prep has boosted enrollment, increased its endowment, earned recognition as a Blue Ribbon School and launched new academic programs based on up-to-the-minute curriculum trends.

The school’s new STEAM program, for instance, adds an art component to the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) trend, and it’s been a hit with students.

McCarron’s colleagues say they admire her ability to achieve concrete results, but she is most loved, it seems, for her personality.

“She’s outgoing — she loves people, loves good times — and she’s got compassion,” said Sister Pat McLaughlin, who served as NDP’s board chair for most of McCarron’s tenure as headmistress. “Students come to her for more than academic advice. She has a real way of being with people.”

‘Be there for everyone’

Over the years, McCarron grew her leadership skills, her colleagues say, but her eagerness was evident from day one.

McCarron started out in 1984 as a math teacher at Notre Dame Prep. She was fresh out of college, a 20-something newbie. But taking it slow wasn’t her style.

McCarron dove headfirst into her new community, signing on as the junior varsity basketball coach and as a moderator for student government.

“She had a very full plate for such a young teacher, and that’s how she still is,” said Christine Kaiser, a math teacher who became McCarron’s mentor, and is now the dean of students at NDP. “But she always manages to be there for everyone.”

Indeed, on a recent morning on NDP’s campus, McCarron doesn’t go more than a few minutes without mentioning the importance of community.

“I really do believe that the more you give, the more you get,” she said. “When you’re part of a community, everyone pitches in and shares whatever gifts or talents they have, and we always gain so much more than we give.”

Communities all over Baltimore have been recipients of McCarron’s generosity, as she moved from one school to the next, both as a student and an educator. Along the way, she’s collected a bevy of awards and countless fans.

Sister Patricia McCarron, headmistress at Notre Dame Preparatory School in Towson, talks with students building a robot during class. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

Sister Patricia McCarron, headmistress at Notre Dame Preparatory School in Towson, talks with students building a robot during class. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

“She’s one of my favorite people, I’ve got to say,” said Wayne Gioioso Jr., president of Mid-Atlantic Properties, a former NDP board member and father of three NDP graduates. “We used to joke that there were seven Sister Patricias … Her energy is just unbelievable.”

McCarron taught at NDP for four years. In her second year, she joined the School Sisters of Notre Dame, an organization affiliated with the Catholic Church that owns and operates schools across the country, including NDP.

Then, in 1988, after receiving her master’s in education from Loyola University Maryland, she entered a two-year period of intense religious study called the novitiate: the preparatory period before making temporal vows and becoming a professed sister.

After that, McCarron served for four years as assistant principal of the Seton Keough High School in Baltimore city. She likely would have stayed for many more years, she said, but the School Sisters organization “invited” her to go get a doctorate.

“I guess they saw some potential in me, or some need that we might have in the future that I might be able to respond to,” McCarron said.

Glad to be back

In 1997, McCarron received a doctorate in educational administration/policy from the Catholic University of America (on a full scholarship). She then joined the faculty at what was then the College of Notre Dame (now called Notre Dame of Maryland University), where she steadily moved up the ranks, from assistant professor to associate dean.

McCarron says she loved the university community, and like her last job, might have stayed indefinitely. However, McCarron had caught the eye of a search committee working on behalf of Notre Dame Prep; she was named headmistress in 2005.

She was glad to be back, she said, and work with students walking the same halls she had.

“To see such young women full of tremendous potential who really have the gifts and the ability and the heart and soul and minds to change the world, it’s awesome,” she said. “Just awesome.”

McCarron has received two awards from the National Catholic Education Association: the Educational Excellence Award, and the Distinguished Graduate Award. She was inducted into The Daily Record’s Circle of Excellence of 2013 after receiving the Maryland Top 100 Women award three times.

In addition to her academic achievements, McCarron, who played basketball, badminton, and softball, is an accomplished athlete: She was inducted into the athletic hall of fame at the Institute of Notre Dame (the Baltimore high school she attended), as well as Notre Dame of Maryland University.

To celebrate McCarron’s career, the school’s annual Saddles and Silver Gala will raise money for a new scholarship to be named in her honor.

Part of Notre Dame Prep’s mission is to raise women to be “loving, just and wise,” McLaughlin said.

“And I think [McCarron] embodies those things,” McLaughlin said. “The girls look to her and see her as the loving, just and wise leader that they aspire to be.”

About Alissa Gulin

Alissa Gulin covers health care, education and general business at The Daily Record.