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Year for Catholic schools kicks off with two new leaders

The following story appeared in the August 27 Idaho Catholic Register.

By Gene Fadness


This is not an easy time to be a school administrator or teacher, but Idaho Catholic schools’ two newest administrators are convinced their schools will continue to thrive as long as the schools’ employees stay focused on their mission and are charitable when dealing with fellow teachers and staff, students and parents as they navigate the uncertainties of the year ahead.

“I love it, I feel so alive,” said Sara Harris, recently named administrator at St. Paul’s Catholic School in Nampa. “I know that my work is for the greater glory of God.”

Sara Harris, St. Paul’s, Nampa

At Holy Family Catholic School in Coeur d’Alene, Sue Styren oversees a Catholic school, that, unlike others in the state, is supported by three parishes: St. Thomas the Apostle and St. Pius X in Coeur d’Alene and St. George Parish in Post Falls.

“For Catholic schools to be effective and successful in the life and mission of the Church there needs to be a strong relationship with the local parish communities and the wider diocesan community,” Styren said.

Sue Styren, Holy Family, CdA

“The school provides an excellent opportunity to evangelize and catechize families.” she said. “All of this starts with ensuring that school families, faculty and staff are engaged with the parishes by providing opportunities for the parish and the school to come together not only in prayer and worship but in social and fund-raising events as well.”

Styren said said the school’s mission statement is to promote development of the “whole person,” both spiritually and academically.

The founding families of Holy Family were those types of leaders who started Holy Family 25 years ago to build a school where lives could be transformed. “The strong alumni support of this community, the graduates, and the parish members that have worked in concert with that vision, have helped to make Holy Family the school we see today,” Styren said.

BOTH HARRIS and Styren have either volunteered or have been employed as teachers and administrators for many years leading up to their most recent appointments.

Harris is originally from Fairfax County, Va., near Washington, D.C. She received her undergraduate degree from the College of William and Mary in ethnomusicology, which is the study of music and celebrations of life in a variety of cultures.

She worked for Smithsonian Folk-ways Recordings’ annual festival on the national mall, bringing people together from many cultures. She also worked at the JFK Center for the Performing Arts, providing art and music instruction for children with disabilities and making it possible for them to show their work at the Kennedy Center.

It was while working in Virginia that she met her husband, Charles, a Micron employee from Idaho. After they married in 2006, they moved to Idaho. He continued his work with Micron while she went to work for VSAarts (now Idaho Parents Unlimited), which provides training to parents of children with disabilities and provides access to high-quality arts education to children and young adults. She also earned her master’s degree in organizational leadership from George Fox University-Oregon.

In 2014, her husband’s job took the family to Singapore, where she became a classroom volunteer at the Stamford American International School. Her college degree was especially useful to her during those two years, allowing her to organize multi-cultural arts and music events for the school’s international enrollment.

In 2016, when they returned to Idaho, Harris home-schooled her children while also serving as a religious education teacher at St. Paul’s Par-ish. In the fall of 2018, she became a substitute teacher and a teacher’s aide in physical education at St. Paul’s and took on private tutoring during the summer for children in kindergarten through fifth grade. During subsequent years, her duties at the school increased. “No job was too small, I just wanted to help out at St. Paul’s,” she said.

In 2019, she became the school’s reading and math intervention specialist and by the fall of 2020 was the third grade teacher. She was named interim principal last November before becoming administrator this year. She is working on her Master of Science in educational leadership from Creighton University in Omaha and her graduate certificate in Catholic School Leadership, also from Creighton.

A NATIVE OF California, Styren has been an educator for more than 20 years, 17 years at St. John Notre Dame Catholic School in Folsom, Calif., near Sacramento. Fifteen of those 17 years, she was an administrator.

Her husband, Todd, is originally from Spokane. “His job took him all over the United States but ever since we got married, he wanted to move back home.” That opportunity arose when the COVID pandemic hit and Todd requested permission from his company to work from an Idaho office. That prompted Styren to start looking for a job here. She saw an opening for a teaching position at Holy Family, but was encouraged to apply for the principal position that would soon be opening.

One of her primary goals is to get a STREAM program implemented at Holy Family, which is similar to the well-known STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) approach, but adds also religion and arts.

“We want STREAM with a huge infusion of Catholicity,” Styren said. “You have to look at science through an ethical and moral lens. Look at all the great scientists in our faith who have contributed to science, mathematics and art.”

Styren has no illusions about the challenges facing education in general and Catholic education in particular.

“There is a long list of challenges facing Catholic education today, including a crisis of values, moral relativism, rapid structural changes, and profound technical innovations,” she said. “In light of these as well as other problems, Catholic schools are called to embrace a spiritual renewal of their energy and vision,” she said, beginning with a commitment to the fundamental formation of the hu-man person. “The ultimate goal of all Catholic education is salvation in Jesus Christ. It should be our common hope and prayer that Catholic education never loses sight of that compelling vision of faith.”

“The role of the Catholic school system is to prepare our children for the journey to heaven, not Harvard,” Styren said. “But, on the way, if they make it to both, so much the better.”

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it, please consider buying a subscription to the Idaho Catholic Register. Your $20 yearly subscription also supports the work of the Diocese of Boise Communications Department, which includes not only the newspaper, but this website, social media posts and videos. You can subscribe here, or through your parish, or send a check to 1501 S. Federal Way, Boise, ID, 83705: or call 208-350-7554 to leave a credit card payment. Thank you, and God bless you.

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