By Mary Stadnyk | Associate Editor
When Mary Liz Ivins was given the opportunity to work at “home” 40 years ago, she took it.
Now, with a treasure trove of memories, fruitful learning experiences and gratitude, Ivins is preparing to put her ministry in Catholic education aside for a new chapter of her life – retirement.
“For some wonderful reason, God allowed me to be part of an exceptional group of educators who over the years have created a place where young people can be rigorously challenged to learn and think while they are surrounded by love and laughter,” Ivins said of her “home,” Notre Dame High School, Lawrenceville, from where she graduated in 1972 and then served on the staff since 1979.
As she prepares for her June retirement, Ivins speaks fondly of how she has “been blessed to be able to truly live my faith every day."
“I have loved making faith a real day-to-day experience for young people,” she said. “They are curious, challenging and open. I believe that Jesus said, ‘Let the children come to me’ because they are just so alive and fun. I am so deeply grateful that God blessed me with this work.”
Explaining how her career in Catholic education evolved, the lifelong Mercer County resident who grew up in Incarnation (now part of Incarnation-St. James) Parish, Ewing, said it was during the summer after she graduated from St. Joseph University, Philadelphia, with a degree in psychology that she accepted a position as a religion teacher in St. Anthony High School (now part of Trenton Catholic Academy), Hamilton. Since she had taken the required theology and philosophy courses in college, she applied for the job saying, “I was so very happy teaching religion that I never looked back.”
Ivins taught in St. Anthony High School for three years until an opening for a religion teacher became available in Notre Dame.
“The Sisters of Mercy [who staffed the school] kept telling me that I should ‘come home’,” Ivins said. In 1979, she did.
Over the years at Notre Dame, Ivins rose through the ranks academically by earning a master’s degree in educational administration from Rider University, Lawrenceville, and a master’s degree in Christian Education from Princeton Theological Seminary. She advanced in leadership positions, moving from teaching to religion department chairwoman, to assistant principal and then going on to serve as the school’s longest principal for 17 years. In July 2018, she assumed her current role as interim president, filling in as the school embarked on a nationwide search for a permanent replacement for Notre Dame’s first president, Barry Edward Breen, who in June 2018.
As interim president, Ivins oversaw the $1.8 million renovation of the school’s 1,167 seat auditorium, as well as the founding of three merit-based academic scholarships that will be awarded annually beginning in fall 2019. She also has worked closely with the school’s Board of Governors to maintain the school’s robust strategic plan, and to improve the school’s financial position through enhanced fundraising and marketing efforts.
During her 40 years at Notre Dame, Ivins admits her work could not have been accomplished without the assistance of many, namely the “generous parents who have enriched the experience of their children” through their presence and help with organizing events such as post-prom parties, father-daughter and mother-son dances, senior fashion shows, parent ambassador calls to incoming families and cast parties, to name a few. She also commended the school’s committed board of governors who head very active board committees dealing with finance, facilities, advancement, technology, marketing, human resources and strategic planning. Serving on the education boards for St. Gregory the Great Academy, Hamilton Square, and in St. Ann School, Lawrenceville, also helped to broaden her skills.
In retirement, Ivins anticipates the extra time will permit her to become involved in her parish, St. Ann Parish.
JoAnn Tier, diocesan superintendent of schools, acknowledged Ivins’ dedication to the Notre Dame High School community.
“At the heart of all she does are the students,” Tier said. “With her wisdom, guidance and forward-thinking, students are prepared for a future that is undefined in our world of continuous change. They will be contributors and people of moral character who are steeped in faith.”
“May the new phase of experiences for Mary Liz be joy-filled knowing that she has impacted many and has been a catalyst in the lives of those in her care,” she said.