Principal of spirit

June 27th, 2015 1:14 am

First Posted: 6/7/2013

Kathy Gilmartin was greeted with little fanfare when she first stepped onto the grounds at Duryea’s Holy Rosary School nearly three decades ago.

Now, 27 years later, a farewell reception held in her honor last Sunday included a greeting line that wrapped around the gymnasium and spilled out its doors.

Just one act of appreciation from the community she presided over for so long.

The afternoon luncheon reception was the beginning of a week-long celebration which honored Gilmartin and celebrated her tenure as an educator at Holy Rosary as she moves on to become the Diocese of Scranton’s assistant superintendent.

“It’s an honor for me and it’s an honor for the people, too,” Gilmartin said. “Because the way I turned out is a direct result of the 27 years I’ve been here.”

Gilmartin got her start teaching fourth grade in 1986 – the same year her daughter began attending Holy Rosary. After moving on to seventh and eighth grade for a short time, Gilmartin eventually took over in 2001 as principal. The rest, as they say, is history.

“I’ve been very blessed to be in the same place for 27 years,” she said. “I’ve gotten to know these families – and they are like family to me.”

Many of those families were on hand last week exchanging handshakes and hugs with Gilmartin as they wished her the best in the next chapter of her career journey.

At the same time, many of those same families saw plenty of changes in local Catholic education as several area schools shut their doors.

As area schools were closing and families were scrambling to seek other options, Gilmartin made sure that any child moving onto Holy Rosary felt comfortable and welcome. She orchestrated shadowing days to allow students and families to see what a day at Holy Rosary was like, and allowed new transfers to wear their former school’s uniform during their first year.

“She embodies the Catholic spirit,” said Candice Lee, Gilmartin’s successor as principal. “When we went through the reorganization, she was a driving force to keep as many schools open as she could fight for,” she said.

Lee spent the past two years under Gilmartin training as an administrative intern where she saw her caring nature first-hand.

The first year they began working together happened to come during one of the more trying times in recent local history – September 2011’s record flooding. Lee recalled the calmness in which Gilmartin dealt with the disaster as well as her poise in easing the concerns of children and their families.

“To see her dedication and her commitment not only to Holy Rosary but to Catholic education itself is just inspiring,” she said.

Now, Lee hopes to carry that same demeanor into the beginnings of her tenure.

“She’s given me so much guidance and so much confidence that I can do the job,” Lee said. “That’s just how she is. She brings the best out in others.”

Having been an educator for so long, Gilmartin admitted that the hardest part about moving on will be the way students regularly brightened her day.

“When you’re having a bad day in school you just need to walk out the door and find some kids and they’ll make sure you have a good day,” she said.

But Gilmartin isn’t leaving education all together. She begins her new position at the Diocese of Scranton this fall.

In an official statement, the Diocese spoke highly of their new assistant superintendent.

“Her decades of service both as a teacher and principal exemplify what we hope all our educators to be – dedicated professionals who enthusiastically embrace our mission of Catholic education,” the statement read.

“We are grateful that the entire Diocesan Catholic school system will benefit from her talents.”

As the school year winds down, so did Gilmartin’s special week – with “Kathy Gilmartin” day on Thursday and a special mass today.

Gilmartin said she’s thrilled to still be able to work in education and affect the lives of children.

“I have no doubt they will contribute to the world,” she said. “In the end, it’s they who have taught me.”