Sister Mary Helen Beirne aims to build on Freehold school’s legacy
Story by Lois Rogers | CorrespondentSister of St. Joseph of Chestnut Hill Mary Helen Beirne is looking forward to adding to the legacy of the venerable, 143-year-old St. Rose of Lima School, Freehold.
Over the decades, that legacy has kept pace with the times, offering a child-centered learning environment that nurtures the spiritual, physical, emotional and academic growth of each child in a supportive atmosphere, Sister Mary Helen said.
One of seven children growing up in Ocean City, her devotion to Catholic education stems from her own experience. She attended Catholic grade school and high school and went on to Catholic institutions of higher learning.
She earned a bachelor of arts degree in European history from Chestnut Hill College, Philadelphia; completed a master’s degree in modern European history from The Catholic University of America, Washington, and a doctorate in educational administration from Temple University, Philadelphia.
“In all my education, I experienced persons of faith and prayer who were very fine educators and very wonderful role models for me,” said Sister Mary Helen, who served as principal of Star of the Sea School, Cape May, earlier in her ministry.
Sister Mary has held varied and demanding positions, including serving from 1981 to 1989 as supervisor/personnel for elementary education for the Sisters of St. Joseph as well as teaching.
She also served as assistant superintendent of schools for the Baltimore Archdiocese from 1998 to 2002 and was the associate superintendent of schools for the Trenton Diocese during the same time frame. Under her watch, financial accountability was a primary focus as was expanding staff development.
Most recently, she was head of school and an architect of change at Norwood-Fontbonne Academy, the enduring Chestnut Hill institution that will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2019.
Under her expertise, the school achieved National Blue Ribbon of Excellence status and achieved its fourth Middle States Association of colleges and schools accreditation. In both diocesan settings, she strove to foster state of the art curriculum development and training of parish leadership.
In her rare down time, Sister Mary Helen, a trained historian, also was the primary author and general researcher for a recent history of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Philadelphia titled, “Ready for Any Good Work.” Putting her organizational skills to work, she guided the project with extensive use of congregational documents, artifacts and input of the sisters through interviews and focus groups.