The latest issue of Magnificat High School magazine [available as PDF] contains a profile I wrote about Sister Carol Anne Smith, who is now president of Mags. Here's the story below.
Sister Carol Anne Smith comes home to Magnificat
By Wendy A. Hoke
Sister Carol Anne Smith grew up on Cleveland’s west side blessed with the clarity of knowing from an early age that her life would be devoted to God. The oldest girl of seven children, Sister Carol Anne grew up in a home she describes as “full of unconditional love, happiness and joy.”
Her parents taught their children at an early age that they could not love what they did not know. Learning about God and prayer were a daily part of the family’s life. That strong faith and unconditional love carried her family through the loss of two children, including one brother, Johnny, who drowned in Lake Erie at age 3 and another brother, Willie, who was killed by a truck at age 15.
“Those kinds of tragedies can either break families apart or their faith can keep them going, which is what happened my family’s case,” she said, from her office as the new President of Magnificat High School.
“When Willie died, I had already made the decision to enter the convent and left for the motherhouse two months after his death. In those days when you left for religious life, you really left.”
Despite her conviction of God’s purpose for her, she describes leaving home as the hardest thing she ever did. “Our parents used to talk to us about our vocation in terms of God’s call to us. They never pressured us; they only told us that our response was to pray to know God’s call,” she said.
Very quietly and steadily she discerned a life in the Sisters of the Humility of Mary.
The sisters’ influence was strong during her high school days at Lourdes Academy. “I related to their joy and humanness and deep concern for others.”
She and her classmates were very involved with the issues of the times, namely the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War. “I was editor of the school newspaper and got to interview Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. We even chased Maria Von Trapp all over Cleveland one afternoon for an interview,” she recalled, laughing.
At 18, she left her then-grieving family to enter the convent in western Pennsylvania. She spent three years of her novitiate immersed in community life and theological study.
Vatican II was in full swing and Sister Carol Anne wore the habit less than one year before all religious communities moved to live more purposefully in the world in accordance with their founding purpose.
The 1960s were a time of great change and not everyone adjusted. “I used to feel for the older sisters who went through the change with such grace and dignity. They were wonderful role models.
“Our sisters were primarily involved in teaching and nursing. I knew I was not cut out to be nurse! I was always drawn to teaching. By the time I had to make my choice, we were able to express a preference. While I always loved little ones, I felt drawn to secondary education. These high school years are so precious and formative.”
Sister Carol Anne looks to this time in a young person’s life as a real privilege and significant responsibility. “High school teachers can have a powerful influence over students who, at this time in their lives, are more interested in outside influences,” she said.
When she was very young and in only her fourth year of teaching, she was asked to become part of the administration at Magnificat. Sister Carol Anne admits that whatever she saw as her life’s set course was changing. Even though she accepted the path that led to becoming assistant principal and then principal, she feels as if she’s never left teaching, serving as a mentor to many others.
Her success as principal at Magnificat led to her being called to a much larger community as Superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Cleveland and Secretary for Education and Catechesis.
Working with Bishop Anthony Pilla reinforced in her the idea that we are here to be of service, which is the opportunity Sister Carol Anne now believes she’s been given as President of Magnificat.
“I see faithfulness—absolutely—in young women today. I’m so impressed by their awareness of Mary. She was a young girl, the same age as the girls here, when she was called by God,” she said.
“We are here to implement a mission which calls girls to imitate Mary. That the students grasp that is absolute; that they are challenged at every front is also absolutely true.”
She believes that young women are better prepared to meet these challenges when they witness others who allow God to work in their lives. The message in the Gospels and the call to Mary are indeed counter-cultural.
Tapping into the natural generosity and idealism in young people through service and campus ministry, which are the most popular activities at Magnificat, also helps to reinforce that message.
She’s confident in the work ahead. “I met with every single staff member and asked what makes Magnificat a wonderful place. They all responded, ‘It’s the students.’ Likewise, I met with juniors in groups of 20 and asked them about Magnificat’s strengths. They responded that the teachers care deeply about us.
“Students bring life to the school and I’m looking forward to meeting them. We want girls to understand their faith at the same level they understand AP calculus or British Lit. How can we settle for immature lives of faith?”
As president she will lead the Board, alumnae and the entire school community in fulfilling the mission of the school.
It’s a role that seems made for her.
“Sister Carol Anne has always been supportive of the educational mission of the Church, and she consistently demonstrates her commitment to Catholic education, her knowledge, her willingness to learn and her enthusiasm about the future of Catholic schools,” said Margaret Lyons, Secretary for Education/Superintendent for the Diocese of Cleveland.
“As a leader she exemplifies well her faith, her academic acuity, her professional and managerial expertise. She is an organized, honest, creative, strong and high-energy person,” Lyons said. “She possesses a graciousness that will be apparent to staff, families and students. She translates her personal grace into an atmosphere of hospitality and strong Catholic identity.”
Paul G. Clark, President, Northern Ohio Banking, National City Bank, said, “(Sister Carol Anne) is exceptional and effective and gracious about securing resources to support a mission. She’s an incredible fund raiser.”
Clark, who worked with her on the Alleluia Campaign to raise money for inner city Catholic Schools (they raised a record $1.3 million), believes her vow to her order and to teaching and her belief in young people is all coming together in her position at Magnificat.
“She is pure in her motives and desire to help young women learn and grow,” he said.
Clearly, the many qualities Sister Carol Anne brings to her new position are a blessing to the entire Magnificat community. It certainly is nice to have her home.