Honoring Innovative Principles
Xavier College Preparatory Principal Sister Joan Fitzgerald, BVM, has been honored with the Arizona Technology in Education Association (AzTEA) “Administrator of the Year” Innovation Award for her outstanding innovative leadership in educational technology.
Frontdoors Feature Story:
She was born an educator.
The birth of these “Sisters” began with only five women, eager to educate the poor children of Dublin Ireland in 1831. It was the need for education, especially for girls, that gave these five women a calling to become the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was a mission that carried over to future Sisters, such as Joan Fitzgerald.
Sister Joan received a private Catholic education at Sacred Heart in Boone, Iowa where she recalls discovering her life’s path. “In high school I was trying to discern what to do and I was always very attracted to religious life,” Sister Joan recalls.
It became her life pursuit.
In 1962 Sister Joan began teaching Spanish at Xavier College Preparatory High School, a private Roman Catholic school for young women. “When I came to Xavier, there were 400 students and now we have 1,200.” Sister Joan recalls amusingly, “It was a pretty traditional school. Students couldn’t talk in the hallways. It was very structured.”
Founded in 1943, the school was originally staffed by the Sisters of Charity. Today, its efforts are the collaboration of Sisters and lay teachers. It began modestly with a single building, renamed Fitzgerald Hall in 2001, to honor Sister Joan’s 40 years of service at the school. “The campus has really expanded and we’ve been able to address the fine arts, science and math. Now, finally after 70 years, our students have a cafeteria,” Sister Joan adds.
Xavier College Prep prides itself on fostering an environment that empowers young women. “They’re not afraid of being smart,” Sister Joan states. “The Sisters always had a position of authority because we were educated. As Sisters, we were head of hospitals, presidents of universities, colleges and principals of schools,” she says. This is a philosophy that compels Sister Joan to shape these privileged girls.
An integral part of the Xavier curriculum is its commitment to social services. Xavier’s Christian Service Program is one of the first and largest youth service forces in Arizona. This program requires the girls to complete 50 hours of community service prior to finishing their junior year.
Proudly, nearly all Xavier graduates will go on to attend four year universities. Last year alone, students earned 25 million dollars in scholarships. “I think our students are using a lot more of their talents. They didn’t always have the opportunity but they’ve always been gifted.”
Sister Joan humbly credits the school’s success to others. “The parents are very caring and supportive. They want the best for their daughters. But it’s not just for their daughters; they make it possible for others who wouldn’t have that possibility of coming to Xavier.” Sister Joan says. Parents participate in the Mothers’ Guild or Dads’ Club to help with fundraising events.
Polly Bayless-Fitz-Gerald 68’, Director of Advancement and Alumnae Relations states “It’s Sister Joan’s vision that’s driving all of this. She genuinely cares about our students and what’s happening in the world of education.”
Sister Joan’s leadership of Xavier College Preparatory is the stuff of legends. She quietly leads this prestigious institution with dignity and grace. Much of what she does comes from a fortitude that is based in her faith. And, a commitment to strengthen the lives of “her girls” while they are under her tutelage. This is the added spark that changes lives.