Coffee & Doughnuts with Barbara McGraw Edmondson

By Paul McMullen
pmcmullen@CatholicReview.org
 
As the 2016-17 school year begins, the Catholic Review speaks with the superintendent of the archdiocesan Department of Catholic Schools, a parishioner of Holy Family in Davidsonville.
CR: What, and where, are your Catholic roots? 
Edmondson: I was born in Bayonne, N.J. Like Baltimore at that time, we had many ethnic parishes. I went to school at St. Andrew Parish, where the people were either Irish-Catholic or Italian-Catholic. Our social life, sports, theater, whatever we did as kids, centered around the parish. On a Saturday afternoon, out riding our bikes or roller skating, if it was 3 o’clock, we’d stop in for confession. We were taught by the Sisters of St. Joseph from Chestnut Hill, whom I hold near and dear to my heart.
CR: What inspired you to go into Catholic education?
Edmondson: My first teaching job was at Our Lady of Victories in Sayreville, N.J. It felt right, to teach religion and talk about Jesus, especially with the young children. I loved that I could come into each day letting them know how much Jesus loved them. I was drawn to give back to what had given so much to me.
I had worked at George Washington University, but came back to Catholic schools because my husband, Joe, and I had started a family, and I wanted to work in an environment where I could make our children (Casey, Bethany, Bridget and Liam) part of my community. We had been looking to move to Anne Arundel County, and in 2000 I was asked to be the founding principal of School of the Incarnation (in Gambrills). That’s the best job I’ve ever had or ever will have, a phenomenal opportunity.
CR: Do you ever miss being in the classroom?
Edmondson: I don’t miss the classroom as much as I miss being a principal, being able to go in and out of classrooms, help teachers solve problems and help kids. At School of the Incarnation, we had the gift of morning prayer as a community, 800 students in the gym together. That was the best way to start the day.
It’s not that I don’t love teaching, but I had more joy among a larger group of students and their families. People come in and tell you a lot of things about their lives, because you’re caring for their children, and they’re partners with you. It’s really a privilege to be a part of so many people’s lives.
CR: what distinguishes Catholic schools, beyond faith in the curriculum? 
Edmondson: Community. Going back to St. Andrew, through all my schools and then Incarnation, people come in the door and say, ‘I feel something different.’ What they feel is that community. Faith is the foundation of all that, but the sense of community is bar none.
CR: Favorite saint? 
Edmondson: St. Catherine of Siena, a patron of the McGraw family. My grandmother was Catherine, and my father’s twin sister was Catherine. It was my confirmation name, and our oldest (Casey) is a Catherine.
When I left Incarnation, Father Michael Callaghan, who was the project director during its construction, gave me an icon of Catherine of Siena; it’s on my office wall. He had no idea of the family history, but said, “When I think of saints and strong women, I think of Catherine. This is who you are to me.” 

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The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.