Mary Beth Bowling credits educators with whom she has worked, particularly women religious, with her passion for Catholic education.
The assistant superintendent for Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Louisville was recently awarded the 2020 Lead. Learn. Proclaim. Award from the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA).
The award recognizes “outstanding efforts, contributions, and achievements on behalf of Catholic school education,” according to the association.
Bowling said the award not only reflects her efforts but that of the entire school system in the archdiocese.
She began her teaching career at St. Bartholomew School where she served first as a teacher then later as principal. She was principal of St. James, St. Patrick and Sacred Heart Model schools, too, before becoming assistant superintendent in 2014.
One constant throughout her time as an educator has been the interaction with passionate leaders who were strong in their faith, particularly a number of women religious, she said in a recent interview. Among them were Ursuline Sister of Mount St. Joseph Jean Madeline Peake, Sister of Charity of Nazareth Dorothy Wilson and Ursuline Sister Millie May Rueff.
“Those religious sisters formed me and helped me become a better teacher,” she said. “As I look back these strong religious women walked with me the entire way. Those touchpoints have meant a lot to me — in both faith and education.”
Her love of learning, she said, has been an inspiration throughout her career.
“Many people along the way have planted that love of learning — multiple teachers, multiple schools,” she said.
Leisa Schulz, superintendent for Catholic schools, said Bowling is skilled at creating opportunities for leaders to learn together and build lasting relationships that nurture school communities.
“Mary Beth has enriched Catholic school leadership in the archdiocese by creating opportunities for current and future leaders to focus on their call to Catholic school ministry,” Schulz said.
With Bowling’s guidance, the Merton Leadership Initiative began in 2016. The leadership formation program is designed to support and nurture principals, assistant principals and other teacher leaders.
Since its inception, 40 participants from 13 schools — both elementary and secondary — have taken part in the leadership program.
“We are continuing to grow the program and reach out and include more teacher leaders. We not only want to assist on the academic side but help with their Catholic identity as educators as well,” Bowling said.
Dr. Anastasia Quirk, principal of DeSales High School, has been part of the Merton Leadership Initiative since its inception and described Bowling as a “compassionate leader” who “always seeks to understand your concerns, your questions and your specific situation.”
“She makes you feel as though everything you say matters and is worth her time and energy. She takes the time to be sure there is clarity in solutions and assurance that she will be there to offer whatever support you need,” she said.
Because of this dedication, Quirk said, her response or advice is “intentional and clear and can be carried out with confidence.”
“She has continued to be a mentor and model for Christian leadership to me. She is a blessing in my life and to our diocese,” Quirk said.
Bowling’s ability to cultivate leaders in Catholic schools has created a culture where individuals have the opportunity to learn and grow, Schulz said.
“Mary Beth also builds strong relationships with individuals, so she has the ability to identify individuals who are well suited for leadership positions.
“She provides excellent counsel and support to pastors and search committees by helping them frame leadership needs and matching those needs with appropriate candidates,” Schulz said.
Bowling is quick to deflect the attention and instead praised her colleagues — including Schulz, who she described as “second to none.”
“I’ve always been blessed by fabulous pastors, who’ve been instrumental in helping me grow as an educator, and by the teachers I’ve worked with. Leadership comes from every interaction,” she said.
Bowling and her husband are long-time parishioners of St. Martha Church.