Sacred Heart Academy in Hempstead has named a lay person to lead the all-girls high school for the first time since its founding in 1949.
Kristin Lynch Graham, 46, will be formally installed as president during a Mass on Sunday at the school, which is run by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood.
She started work in July, taking over the post from interim president Sister Jean Amore, who served for about a year.
“I am very humbled and very proud to be the first lay leader of Sacred Heart Academy,” said Graham, a native of Stewart Manor who attended Catholic schools through college and has worked at Jesuit-run Fordham University and at St. Mary’s High School in Manhasset. “I think we have a lot to celebrate here.”
The appointment reflects a nationwide trend of laypeople taking on leadership positions in Catholic schools, colleges, hospitals and other institutions as the numbers of priests, nuns and religious brothers decline, church experts said.
Graham will oversee all operations of the 800-student school. Sister Joanne Forker, the principal, will report to her, in a relationship that Graham described as “collaborative.”
The president’s job is similar to that of a CEO, with Graham handling fundraising, strategic planning and alumni relations. Forker is focused on the school’s academics.
Amore, speaking generally of the nuns’ roles in the Hempstead school, said, “Our strength is not in the role of the president today, which is so much involved in finance, in communications work, and in institutional advancement. Most of us — including myself — our background is academic.”
The move toward lay leadership of Catholic institutions was encouraged by the 1960s Vatican II reforms in the church. It accelerated during the past decade and probably will pick up speed in coming years, said James McCurtin, director of Fordham University’s Center on Religion and Culture.
“This is what we are seeing in a lot of instances,” McCurtin said. “There is a transition from leadership of men and women religious to laypeople who have been working alongside men and women religious for decades.”
For example, Chicago’s Loyola University in May named a layperson, Jo Ann Rooney, as its president — a first in the college’s 146-year history. Before Rooney, all 23 Loyola presidents were Jesuit priests.
Sacred Heart’s first president, Sister Jeanne Ross, was named in 2008; she retired last year. The school did not specifically set out to appoint a layperson as its new president, Amore said.
A nationwide search included both laypeople and nuns, including those from other orders. As the search progressed, it was apparent that Graham was the “perfect fit,” said Amore, who also is a former head of the Sisters of St. Joseph.
“I think many years ago we would have had many sisters who would be very qualified to take this position and very available to do it,” she said, referring to nuns within the Brentwood order. “Today that isn’t true.”
Graham’s work as president will be similar to what she has done at St. Mary’s, Fordham and also at Columbia Law School. She has not taught in the classroom; many of the Sisters of St. Joseph, such as Forker, are trained teachers.
Amore added that the order has long worked closely with laypeople.
“We’re happy somebody like Kristin is so able and so motivated to be an example of our mission and of an empowered woman herself who is married with children, committed, compassionate, courageous, all of those things,” she said.
Some other Catholic high schools on Long Island have appointed laypeople to run them. Margaret Myhan was named president of Our Lady of Mercy Academy in Syosset, an all-girls high school, in 2012, becoming its first lay leader since its founding in 1928.
Others, including the all-boys Chaminade High School in Mineola and St. Anthony’s High School in South Huntington, which serves both boys and girls, continue to be led by religious brothers.