New principal at Lawrence school

Jorge Hernandez, new principal at Lawrence Catholic Academy, is pictured at a recent interview on the Good Catholic Life radio program. Pilot photo/The Good Catholic Life

LAWRENCE -- At the beginning of its fourth year this fall, Lawrence Catholic Academy will have a new principal. Jorge Hernandez, current member of the school board and Lawrence resident since 2005, will assume the position in July.

Hernandez also currently serves on the board of Notre Dame Cristo Rey High School in Lawrence and is the assistant superintendent for marketing and enrollment for the Archdiocese of Boston Catholic Schools Office.

Speaking with The Pilot, Hernandez said he hopes to help to continue the school's growth and make sure that the needs of each student are met.

"We want to make sure that all students meet with success and achieve excellence, not just in academics but in their faith life and overall growth and development as people," he said.

Drawing from the words of St. Augustine, Hernandez said that Catholic education should involve a community with members that are "of one mind and heart on the way towards God."

Lawrence Catholic Academy, founded in 2010, consolidated Our Lady of Good Counsel School in Methuen and St. Patrick School in Lawrence at the site of the latter school. Enrollment at both schools had declined steadily for six years, dropping to 452 total. This year, enrollment at Lawrence Catholic Academy topped 500. It is the only remaining elementary Catholic school in Lawrence since St. Mary School closed in 2011.

Hernandez praised the Lawrence Catholic Academy's "extremely supportive" board and expressed his gratitude to the archdiocesan Catholic Schools Office.

He said that one of the strengths of the Lawrence school is its diversity. Students represent different races, religions and socio-economic statuses. The school draws children -- in preschool through grade 8 -- from many cities and towns in the Merrimack Valley.

For many families in Lawrence, where the per capita income is about $16,500, sending their children to private school is a sacrifice, and Hernandez said he wants to show them that Catholic school is worth the investment. Many families also qualify for financial aid, and Hernandez said the school is committed to helping as many families as possible benefit from Catholic education.

Originally from the Los Angeles area, Hernandez received a Catholic education from kindergarten through college. He came east for higher learning, studying at Villanova University in Pennsylvania. He also served as director and interim dean of admissions at Merrimack College in North Andover.

He said that serving to strengthen Catholic education is his calling from God. He lives with his wife and two boys in Lawrence.

The school board chair and pastor at St. Patrick Parish in Lawrence, Father Paul B. O'Brien, told The Pilot that Hernandez is bilingual -- speaking both English and Spanish -- in a city where the majority of families speak a language other than English at home.

He said Hernandez's "deep knowledge of our community," including its strengths and challenges, will be a blessing to the school families.

"I think that people will love him, will respect him and will know he is one of them," he said.

Hernandez has served on the school's board since its inception, and Father O'Brien said he has been impressed by Hernandez's honesty, intelligence and direct approach to challenging issues. Hernandez, who has completed master's work in curriculum development, is "incisive, direct and positively analytical" when it comes to updating curricula to meet state standards and create an academically challenging environment for a diverse student body.

Father O'Brien added that Hernandez is "deeply Catholic" with a lifelong experience of Catholic education.

In a press release announcing Hernandez's appointment, Mary Grassa O'Neill, archdiocesan Secretary for Education and member of the Lawrence school's board, said Hernandez is a "strong, faith-filled leader whose many gifts and talents will be real assets to the Church and to the school and its faculty, staff, students, parents and the entire community."

Both Father O'Brien and incoming principal Hernandez praised Lawrence Catholic Academy's current principal, Sister Lucy Veilleux, PM. She has been the school's only principal and was principal at the closed St. Patrick school two years before that.

"Sister had a huge challenge," Father O'Brien said. "She was very effective in overseeing the startup phase of a new Catholic school."

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