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First woman head at St Mary’s

Jesuit school breaks 145-year tradition, gets non-clergy principal because of lack of priests, reports Farah H Chitalwala.

india Updated: Sep 01, 2009 01:00 IST
Farah H Chitalwala

On September 1, Alice Carvalho will break a 145-year-old tradition to take over as the first woman principal of St Mary’s ISC, Mazgaon.

Carvalho is also the first non-religious head of the iconic Jesuit Catholic institute for boys, which like other eminent Jesuit institutions have historically been headed by priests of the Jesuit Order. Which is why, Carvalho’s appointment has stoked a lot of interest from existing students as well as the alumni.

“Appointing a non-priest for a Catholic school is a decision that rests with the clergy, but appointing a lady to head an all-boys will definitely add a new perspective,” said Ali Dhoon, from the batch of 1988. Students of St Mary’s are traditionally molded in an extremely masculine and hardy system. But with a lady as the head, some fear a fundamental change. “Father Evarist understood us boys. He was principled and stern but understood our mischief,” said Aditya Parekh, batch of 2005. “I’m afraid a lady might be too strict,” he added.

Dr Huzeifa Husein, a 1995 alumnus reminisces about his alma mater as a boys’ club. “Father took us for camps, hikes, the school villa in Khandala. There was a certain bonding that I associate with only him,” he said referring to Fr Joeph Saldanha. Cavalho’s appointment is not so much a gender issue, but indicative of a demographic shift in the Jesuit Catholic order.

“The reason behind this appointment is that there aren’t enough priests in the Jesuit order to administer our schools and colleges,” said Fr Francis Swamy, province coordinator for education, for the Jesuits.

The priests of the Jesuit order, also known as the Society of Jesus, are male Catholic priests, who dedicate their lives to education. Over the last 20 years the number of Jesuit priests has halved with fewer young men joining the order leading to an acute personnel crunch.

“We have taken a policy decision to involve non-priests in the administration of our institutions,” said Swamy. Carvalho’s appointment is part of this policy. “Our institutions have many capable educators who are not priests but imbibe the spirit of the Jesuits and are able to impart our brand of education,” said Swamy. Carvalho, with 26 years of teaching experience, was the former vice principal of St Stainlaus.