Barbara Davis, a Sister of Charity, reflects on her 43-year career in elementary education in the garden at Sylvania Franciscan Academy. Besides teaching and serving as principal at several Catholic schools, Sister Barbara has also worked as a consultant in education for the Catholic diocese.
Today marks the last day of school before summer break for students at Sylvania Franciscan Academy.
It also marks the last day as principal for Sister Barbara Davis, who is leaving Catholic elementary education after a 43-year career, including 37 years in the Toledo Catholic Diocese.
"This is my last day of car-pool, and it's mixed feelings," she said.
The only member of the Sisters of Charity in the Toledo area, Sister Barbara settled on her career path early in life.
"From a little girl on, I always wanted to be a teacher," she said.
Sister Barbara joined the Sisters of Charity soon after graduating from Seton High School because she was inspired by the nuns who were her teachers at that Cincinnati school.
She began teaching at St. Mary's Catholic School in Greenville, Ohio, after graduating from the College of Mount St. Joseph in 1964. The principal at St. Mary's was also a full-time teacher, and it was there that Sister Barbara remembers first becoming interested in school administration.
Besides teaching and serving as principal at several Catholic schools, she has also worked as a consultant in education for the diocese and served on the Department of Elementary Schools Executive Committee, part of the National Catholic Educational Association.
Sister Barbara Davis thanks Abbie Helmer, right, for the card Abbie has given her at Sylvania Franciscan Academy. Sister Barbara will retire as principal at the end of the school year.
Sister Barbara speaks highly of the academy and of her experience in the Catholic elementary schools where she has taught.
"There's an atmosphere of peace," she said, "and I think that comes from the discipline."
She views her position as principal as equal, not above, the positions of the other people who work at the academy. "As an administrator, you want to empower the gifts of the people around you," she said.
Empowerment works both ways, Sister Barbara learned a decade ago, when she was diagnosed with stage 4 small-cell lymphoma. She remembers offering to resign from St. Mary, explaining that she would have to miss some school. The pastor would not hear of her resignation, so the teachers rallied to support her and the school.
"I've been happy every place that I've been. I've been blessed," she said.
In July, 1998, she had a stem cell transplant using her own cells at the James Cancer Center. She was in the hospital for an unusually short time for a patient with her diagnosis and surgery, saying she considers it a miracle.
That same year, she was honored as a distinguished principal by the National Catholic Association and the U.S. Department of Education.
While she has seen many changes, Sister Barbara proudly asserts the continuing strength of the Catholic school system.
"The commitment of the parents has stayed over the years, and the commitment of the teachers," she said.
The admiration goes both ways, said Carolyn Schmidbauer, the assistant superintendent for the Catholic Youth and School Services.
"There is a real caring, family atmosphere at her school," she said.
Sister Barbara will miss her work in elementary school. But, she added, "I didn't want to be at a point where I have a lower energy level."
Sister Barbara, though, will not be retiring. She plans to relax before pursuing another employment opportunity, potentially in college-level education in the Toledo area.
"A Catholic educational institution is my hope," said Sister Barbara.
Ms. Schmidbauer is ambivalent about entirely letting go of someone with Sister Barbara's expertise.
"We'll still be calling on her for help from time to time."
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