By KATHY SCHMUGGE
COLUMBIA — The top-selling book, Prayer of Jabez, is based on a small passage in 1 Corinthians 4:10 where Jabez prays, “Oh that you may truly bless me and extend my territories.” It is the most recent book read by Margaret Adams, Ph.D., and the profound effects of that prayer on her life is reverberating throughout the state.
After being the principal of St. John Neumann School in Columbia for 13 years, bringing the school from an enrollment of 38 students to 405, Adams leaves that post to assume the position of superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Charleston.
As superintendent, Adam’s new “territory” of responsibility will be greatly expanded by having to oversee the diocese’s 24 elementary and two high schools.
It is a move that Adams welcomes because as she said to her friends during a farewell reception at St. John Neumann, “I took you as far as I can take you. I had to do the groundwork, and your new principal [Barbara Cole, principal from St. Anthony in Florence] will do the finishing touches.”
The groundwork Adam is referring to is the incredible transformation of a school that was ready to close, but through her leadership, became the first Catholic school in the Charleston Diocese to win the National Blue Ribbon Award in 1999-2000. Her most recent achievement was the completion of the building of the new library/computer center that has become the focal point of the school, but Adams quickly attributes these successes to the many parents, parishioners and friends who graciously contributed to the effort.
During Adams’ farewell gathering, she received with gratitude several lovely gifts from various groups such as the Parent School Association, St. John Neumann Church and the diocese. Father Frederick Masad, pastor of St. John Neumann Church, expressed his admiration and appreciation for Adams with those present at the farewell.
Recalling when she first arrived at St. John Neumann School, Father Masad was instantly impressed with this hard worker who had the ability to rally the support of others. “She is a human domino, a whirlwind of a woman,” described the priest. “Dr. Adams has been the guiding light for St. John’s, the one who never stopped. She had faith that everything would work out and it did.”
He shared a humorous story of how she handed him a brush during the first of her many renovation projects. “She never asked me back,” he laughed.
Gary Gelo, the former superintendent, extended the gratitude of the diocese for what Adams has done and what she will do in the future. “Dr. Adams is a symbol of excellence excellence in academic, faith and service. She will be able to provide the same leadership for the diocese as she did at St. John Neumann because she is respected by her peers,” he added.
Gelo resigned from his position as superintendent to take a job as senior consultant with Meitler Consultants in Milwaukee, Wis., effective July 5.
What can people expect from Adams as superintendent is best described by students and faculty who find it difficult to let her go.
Jeff Labban, a former student and freshman at Wofford College who came to the farewell, attributes Adams for his turn-a-round. “She instilled a lot of discipline, but it was discipline with love.”
Kathy Duncan, who has children attending the school, did extensive work in the new library as one of the volunteer artists behind the painted murals. She said, “Dr. Adams has a way of making you do things you never thought you would do, and you did not seem to mind because you knew her motives were pure.”
The school was able to collectively articulate what Adams has meant to them through a quilt where each class contributed a square. In one square, a couple of teachers defined Adams as “a visionary, who can convince students, teachers, and parents to do the impossible.”
Adams’ commitment to Catholic education was rooted in her own childhood growing up in Charleston, where she attended Sacred Heart Elementary School, now called Charleston Catholic, then went on to Bishop England High School. Through the influence of the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy, an order founded in Charleston, the 18-year-old Margaret attended Cabrini College in Pennsylvania, a Catholic college where she received a bachelor’s degree in elementary education in 1967.
There she explored a vocation with the Sisters of Cyril and Methodius, a teaching order in Danville, Pa., but found her life moving in another direction. She enrolled at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, successfully completing a master’s degree in reading and a doctorate in school administration.
It was in 1989, after having been a principal at Heathwood Hall Episcopal School in Columbia, that Adams decided to take the challenge of St. John Neumann School. She was able to bring enrollment up quickly as the new principal because she truly believes in the value of a Catholic education. “It is important to give children a strong foundation to build upon and a good Catholic school gives that foundation,” said the convinced administrator. “I have gotten a superior Catholic education, and it is my turn to give back what I reaped from it.”
She intends to work hard to help the diocesan schools most in need, hoping to repeat her past successes. Adams especially feels blessed to have been given this opportunity, but parents, parishioners and peers will all agree, it is the diocese that is blessed to have such a devoted servant of God working with them to transform her new territory in ways others may think impossible.