Susie Gibbons: Superintendent to Retire After More Than 40 Years in Catholic Education
For retiring superintendent Susie Gibbons, Catholic education has been with her nearly every step of her life. From attending Catholic grade school, high school and college, to teaching, administering, then leading the charge for the fourth largest Catholic school system in the U.S., Gibbons has done it all.
Her vocational call to education began her junior year of high school, when a fantastic math teacher inspired her to pursue education. In college, she was told that, in addition to math, she had to have a second educational focus, so she spontaneously selected French. Upon graduation, teaching Catholic school was Gibbons’ natural choice.
“It was never really a conscious decision for me. I just knew that, to me, putting Catholicity and education together was always the way to do it.” Gibbons said. Teaching at her alma mater, Alter High School in Dayton, for her first two years, she moved to Seton High School in Cincinnati in 1980, where she gradually took on more responsibilities.
“I taught math. And then in 1982, they asked me to be director of student activities … and then I was department chair. I became assistant principal in 1990, and principal in 1997,” she said.
Her time as a teacher and administrator in Catholic schools helped prepare Gibbons, both administratively and empathetically, for her role as superintendent of the entire archdiocese. “With principalship, you have the best of days and you have the worst days. There’s not really a norm. And the days that are hardest are when something happens with a child, like if there’s illness or an accident,” said Gibbons.
“But I always felt when we had those really hard times, that’s when you could see faith just everywhere.”
After 30 years at Seton, Gibbons knew it was time for change and departed the school in 2010 without a future game plan, but she trusted one would materialize.
“So when [the archdiocesan regional director] job came open, Kathy Beaver and Jean Kennedy, who were predecessors in the school’s office, they called me and said, ‘You really ought to think about this,’” said Gibbons.
She applied for the job and was hired as a regional director, where the newly hired superintendent, Jim Rigg, asked Gibbons to fill in the gaps. “Pretty much every year I had a different assignment. So that was really fortuitous because I really got to know all of the principals,” she said.
Her career took an unexpected turn in 2015, when Riggs told his team he had accepted another job in Chicago. At Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr’s request for names of potential interim superintendents, Riggs tossed Gibbons’ name into the hat.
“The next day I was sitting in the lunchroom. Jim came in and said, ‘Susie, Archbishop wants to see you.’ Well, it really scared me,” said Gibbons. “The previous April, [a student shot himself] in the classroom. He had kind of that look on his face… So, we went back to my office. I sat down and he said, ‘Archbishop wants to talk to you about being interim superintendent.’ And I was like, ‘Is that all?’”
After a year as the interim, Gibbons was the natural choice to permanently take the position. “Archbishop offered me the position. I said I’d be honored and he kind of laughed. He said, ‘We didn’t even talk about salary yet.’ And I said, ‘If I was in this thing for the salary, I would not be 40 years in.’ So we laughed and the rest is history. … I’ve been superintendent for seven years.”
Looking to the future, Gibbons offered this advice to the next superintendent: “The school office people… there’s an awful lot of knowledge, and very mission driven people, people who want to see Catholic education move forward and continue,” she said.
Gibbons continued, “You can have the worst day and be really depressed here because of things going on. We really do see the good, the bad, the ugly. And lots of days we see more ugly than good. But the best days are when you get out, and you can talk to principals, and you can be in a school. And we always say in the schools’ office, ‘You’ve seen one Catholic school, you’ve seen one Catholic school, because they’re all so very different.’”
In response to her upcoming retirement, Archbishop Schnurr offered these words, “You have brought a steady hand to the Superintendent role these past seven years. You have been someone whom I could always count on to represent the Archdiocese of Cincinnati with honesty and integrity. As you head into retirement, you leave the Catholic Schools Office stronger than you found it with a professional team and forward-looking vision. Everything you have done has been with an eye toward providing our students with the best possible Catholic educational experience. One could not ask for much more from a leader. You will leave very big shoes to fill!”
This article appeared in the May 2023 edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here.