Making an Imprint
When Eileen Gray was a student at Holy Names in the late ‘60s, one of the Sisters of the Holy Names told her class, “We are not here to prepare you to be the secretary to the CEO. We are preparing you to be the CEO.”
It’s a philosophy that stuck with Eileen for the entirety of her 48-year career in education all the way through to her retirement at the end of the 2021 school year, including her time as principal at St. Therese Academy.
“I tried to pass on what that nun at Holy Names said to my students,” Eileen said. “These students have been given an opportunity that not many people get. I want them to do something with it.”
During her tenure at St. Therese, Eileen inspired many former students to give back to the community, including some who went on to become Catholic educators. Eileen herself attended 12 years of Catholic school at St. Joseph and Holy Names Academy and emphasized the effect it had on her life as a student and as a person of color. “It was the quality of the education—the faith-based education. We were obviously a minority, but you weren’t made to feel that way.”
Eileen attributed that inclusivity to the Catholic identity of the schools and brought the same ideals to her own career as an educator and administrator. “You cannot call yourself Catholic if you don’t embrace social justice. That has been my driving force; it’s why I stay a Catholic. I think we can do more, but that’s been the mission statement all along.”
And it is clear to Eileen exactly what work remains to be done for students of color, particularly Black students, in Catholic schools.
“Access,” Eileen said. “That is my hope: that they have access. It’s also important to understand what inclusivity is. It’s an embracing of the culture and the history of these students and their families. You have to educate your faculty and staff to be culturally sensitive and see where these families are coming from.”
It’s one of the reasons Eileen supports Fulcrum’s Becraft Scholars Program, an equity-based scholarship program that gives priority to Black and African American students. “What I like about this program is that you’re targeting children regardless of their income and providing them with support. With support, there will be success,” said Eileen. “But you must have family engagement. Students need parental support.”
She added, “If we’re practicing our social justice, we don’t just want it to look good. We want it to work. Education is the one thing that uplifts children out of poverty.”
Eileen’s grandson now attends St. Therese Academy for pre-K. “He is thriving,” Eileen said. “He has an awesome teacher. His academic education is intertwined with the mission of service and love for your community. So many of the students I had at St. Therese are sending their children there. That is a testament to the value of St. Therese to our community.”
Reflecting on her time as an educator, Eileen said, “There are some very amazing stories that I was a part of, things you can only do in Catholic schools,” she said. “We made an imprint.”