Changing of the guard

June 16-22, 2005
VOL 124 NO. 23
Changing of the guard
By Luke Eggleston/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Bishop Grimes honors Father George Sheehan

The Grimes Day Scholarship and Awards Ceremony has always celebrated a changing of the guard.

Thursday, June 9, the school said farewell to its departing seniors while honoring them and also announced next year’s class presidents.

But this year, the ceremony paid tribute to a very important “guard” of the school’s tradition of excellence and Christ-centered education.

Father George Sheehan has been the principal at the small Catholic school for some nine years now and is closing in on his last day.

His impending departure colored the ceremony without weighing it down and it concluded with a brief, Power Point tribute honoring the priest.

Next year, Sister James Therese Downey, OSF, will attempt to perpetuate the high standards set by Father Sheehan and his predecessors when she occupies the principal’s office. She said that following in Father Sheehan’s footsteps is a somewhat intimidating prospect.

“In some ways, it’s very daunting because the students love him and respect him and the teachers love him and respect him and the whole community does. Those are big shoes to fill,” she said.

Sister James Therese has known Father Sheehan for some time. In the 1970’s, Father Sheehan was her English teacher at Bishop Ludden High School.

“He’s always been a good teacher with a good relationship to the students and things like that. He’s been a good mentor for the students as he has been for the other teachers,” Sister James Therese said.

When he first arrived at Grimes, Sister James Therese knew Father Sheehan would have a positive impact on the school.

“I was happy when he came because I knew that it would be a good thing for the school,” she said. At that point, Sister James Therese had been at Grimes for three years.

Father Sheehan had been at Grimes from 1972 to 1978. He returned in 1996.

Upon his return, Father Sheehan addressed the kind of culture Bishop Grimes was presenting, both in terms of its spirituality and its educational targets.

Rather than remain cloistered in the classroom, Father Sheehan wanted Christianity to flow through the hallways of Bishop Grimes High School.

“We said that religion should not just be taught in the classroom, it should permeate the whole school,” Father Sheehan said. “I think that was our first focus was to make us a prayer full community.”

Educationally, the school began heavily stressing preparation for college, and in the last several years Bishop Grimes has sent 100 percent of its students on to universities.

Father Sheehan also saw the school initiate several facilities upgrades. In addition, before his return, Grimes scholastic sports were being played throughout Syracuse. Upon Father Sheehan’s return, all sports were played on the high school’s grounds.

At the assembly, the manner in which Father Sheehan laughed and joked with the students displayed the familiar relationship he has with them. The priest said that he has always tried to cultivate strong relationships with students.

“Once in a while I mix up names, but not very often. I know the kids by name. I try always to treat the kids with dignity,” he said. “When I say dignity, I mean, they always know I’m a principal and they know I’m a priest, but there’s a sense of giving them a feeling that I’m not going to come down on them hard. There is a good sense of feeling. They can joke with me, which they do. We have very light times together. We have prayer time together. Then sometimes I really mean business and I think they always respond.”

Father Sheehan believes that the familiar feeling is a virtue of the Grimes community and of each of its elements, from the students to the teachers to the parents.

“I think it starts with your faculty. We have an outstanding faculty. They are a group of very value-oriented Christian people. They emanate all of the Christian values to the kids. Secondly, I think it’s the parents’ support too. They know they’re sending their sons and daughters to a school that really is focused on what we’re about,” he said. “We tell everyone that our purpose is to educate kids, both for life, that is with Christian values, and for the world in which they’re going to live. So they get an excellent education, and they get a value-oriented education.”

Father Sheehan believes that Sister James Therese is an excellent selection for maintaining the continuity in leadership at Bishop Grimes.

“I highly recommended Sister James Therese for the job. I’ve watched her grow,” he said.

“One of the things we talked about is the importance of continuity,” Father Sheehan elaborated. “That’s not to say that they have to do everything the way I did it, but there has to be that continuity that we started nine years ago, to guide the evolution, the revolution, that’s going on in this school.”

“I think the best part is, I’ve been here for 12 years and I think I bring some consistency to the school. I’m looking forward to it, this is going to be a great experience,” Sister James Therese said. “I want to continue our tradition of academic excellence. I want to continue the tradition of service by our students.”

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