Sacred Heart Schools president sets priorities

Dr. Karen McNay stood in front of a statue of St. Angela Merici, foundress of the Ursuline Sisters, on the Ursuline Campus on Lexington Road. McNay began her tenure as president of Sacred Heart Schools July 1. (Photo Special to The Record)

Dr. Karen McNay’s faith has served as a guidepost to every aspect of her life — as a parent, a Catholic educator and as a child of God.

“To me, if we are truly being Catholic, we are following our faith in all areas of life,” she said in a recent interview. “That’s the rock that keeps you going in all situations, whether at work or at home.”

McNay began her tenure as president of Sacred Heart Schools July 1, 2020. She succeeded Cynthia Crabtree, who had served as president since 2003.

She is now the leader of four Ursuline-sponsored schools located on Lexington Road in St. Matthews, including Sacred Heart Academy, Sacred Heart Model School, Sacred Heart Preschool and Sacred Heart School for the Arts.

As she takes the helm of Sacred Heart Schools, McNay draws upon her two decades of experience in Catholic education. Most recently, she served as president of Ursuline Academy of New Orleans, where she served since 2013. Prior to that, she served as a teacher and principal in Lexington, Ky.

McNay holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Kentucky, a master of education degree from Xavier University and a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Kentucky.

Originally from Elizabethtown, Ky., McNay said returning to the Archdiocese of Louisville feels like coming home.

“All my family is in Elizabethtown and Cecilia. As a child, I attended St. James Church. I grew up on a dairy farm. I’m very excited to come home,” she said in a recent interview.

Her two sons now work on the family farm — Thomas Dairy Farm and Market.

At Sacred Heart Schools, McNay has set several priorities to guide her first year as president, including:

  • The safe and healthy reopening and operation of all four schools;
  • An enhanced and accountable campus culture of diversity and inclusion;
  • The creation of an intentional and accountable all-school five-year strategic plan; and
  • Continued support and commitment to the Ursuline Sisters.

The most pressing issue — one each school in the Archdiocese of Louisville has faced — is the reopening and operation of schools during a pandemic.

“We’ve had to reimagine everything from the moment a student pulls up in their car until the student returns to their car,” she said. “It’s really been a campus effort because everyone — facilities, maintenance, administration, faculty, staff, students, families — had to change the habits of how we do things.”

McNay said the school community also has been asking itself difficult questions regarding its ability to foster an inclusive environment.

“We are starting to look at our own cultural competencies. Are we a campus of inclusion?” she said.

Faculty and staff have had the opportunity to take part in professional development sessions in partnership with the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Multicultural Ministry, addressing such topics as diversity, inclusion and racial injustice.

McNay joins Sacred Heart Schools as the campus is wrapping up the final year of its strategic plan. She is meeting with a steering committee and the board of trustees to develop a vision for the next five years.

A continued commitment to the Ursuline Sisters is also at the forefront of McNay’s mind, she said.

McNay’s previous leadership position was at Ursuline Academy of New Orleans, founded by the Ursuline Sisters in 1727. It was there she became immersed in the Ursuline philosophy of education.

“I have the great honor to walk in their footsteps, to work with them and to learn from them,” she said. “As we lead the school ministry that the Ursuline Sisters began, we must plan for the future to ensure their charism continues on.”

McNay attends Epiphany Church and has three grown children: Max, 32; Emily, 29; and Zack, 28.

Sacred Heart Schools serve boys and girls from infancy through high school. Sacred Heart Academy is a secondary school for girls. Sacred Heart Model School has co-educational junior kindergarten through eighth-grade.  Sacred Heart School for the Arts provides arts education to preschoolers through high school. And Sacred Heart Preschool provides care and education to infants through preschool-aged children. The schools serve nearly 2,000 students.

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