St. Mary’s principal will retire
by Norb Haley
sun contributing writer
Cortland — Sister Harriet Hamilton, OSF, principal of St. Mary’s School in Cortland, will retire July 1 after being in the post 22 years. She is the 13th principal since St. Mary’s School was founded 80 years ago and has stayed the longest.
With the approval of her order, the Sisters of St. Francis in Allegany, N.Y., she will remain in Cortland to assume new responsibilities as a pastoral associate working with parish ministries at St. Mary’s Church.
Msgr. Michael Minehan, pastor of St. Mary’s Church, said that he welcomes her assistance as a pastoral associate but “regrets” losing her as principal.
“A good principal makes for a good school,” Msgr. Minehan said. “In this case we have a great school at St. Mary’s.”
St. Mary’s Church started the parochial school in 1928 and arranged with the Sisters of St. Francis in Allegany, N.Y., to provide the teaching staff which at one time numbered more than 20 sisters. A nun for 53 years, Sister Harriet is the only member of the Franciscans who continues in Cortland.
As a regional Catholic elementary school, St. Mary’s currently enrolls nearly 300 students from pre-kindergarten through sixth grade. The student body comes from 10 different public school districts in Central New York, including seven parishes. The school is nationally accredited by the Middle States Association Commission on Elementary Schools.
Msgr. Minehan expressed appreciation to Sister Harriet for the “invaluable guidance“ she offered when he became pastor at St. Mary’s Church in 2005. “She always is supportive of the school children’s exposure to and participation in the liturgy of the church, the sacraments, and seasonal devotions,” he said.
The monsignor praised Sister Harriet for setting the tone for the faculty and exciting parents about the school. “She has worked hard to gain the support of families as well as alumni while fostering their participation in the life of the school.” He also commended her efforts to insure the religious dimension of the school as its primary identity and mission.
Sister Harriet explained that the decision to retire was hers alone to make. “I am pleased that St. Mary’s Parish has offered me a continued ministry which will enable me to remain in Cortland which has been my home for so many years.”
When Sister Harriet arrived in Cortland in 1986, St. Mary’s had a declining enrollment of 143 students as the junior high school was phased out that spring. Under her leadership, enrollment steadily increased as new programs were introduced, student activities expanded and the curriculum was strengthened. Enrollment has been steady throughout Sister Harriet’s tenure.
Msgr. Minehan noted that Sister Harriet has played a major role in the growth and development of St. Mary’s School over the past 22 years. “Her contributions to the continuing advancement of the school are many and cover all lines of interest,” Msgr. Minehan said.
Among her major contributions cited by the pastor are: a new emphasis on private fund raising, improved marketing and recruitment measures, increased enrollment, expansion of computer technology, and significant upgrades to the physical plant. She also lead the way to establishing long-range planning procedures in cooperation with the Syracuse Diocese and set in motion steps toward achieving accreditation from the Middle States Association.
Sister Harriet is a native of Cuba, N.Y. She earned a Bachelor’s degree at St. Bonaventure University in Olean, N.Y., and a Master of Studies Degree in Library Science at Marywood College in Scranton, Pa. She has New York State permanent certification in administration.
Among the most prestigious honors she received during her long career at SMS occurred in 1996 when she was one of several named Distinguished Principal by the National Catholic Education Association. She was nominated for the award by the Syracuse Diocese. In 1997, she was among elementary and middle school principals from across the nation who were named National Distinguished Principals by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Association of Elementary School Principals. Sister Harriet was one of three principals from private schools to be honored and was the only principal from a religious order to be recognized.
Another distinguished award came to Sister Harriet in 2003 when she was named a recipient of the Third Annual Women In Business Award by the Syracuse-based Central New York Business Journal. The award recognizes women’s accomplishments in business, civic
leadership and personal development. The citation accompanying the award commended Sister Harriet for her work in the development and implementation of a new long-range plan for SMS.
Sister Harriet is proud of her affiliation with the Franciscan Sisters ofAllegany. “The sisters have played a vital role in the history of the school and have had a positive impact on thousands of alumni,” she said.
“My years at St. Mary’s have been exceptionally rewarding,” said Sister Harriet. “I am pleased that I was able to be a part of the continuing growth of the school. I look forward to staying in Cortland and working with the parish.”
Sister Harriet expressed appreciation for the enthusiastic support and cooperation she received while serving as principal. “The main strength of the school is the high quality of our teaching staff,” she said. “Students benefit every day from the hard work and dedication of our staff.”
The retiring principal also praised the work of large numbers of volunteers, especially members of the Parents Guild. “They all are willing to step forward to provide meaningful help to the school.” She commented that the entire parish has been “generously supportive” of SMS.