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Small Things with Great Love

by Isabell Gilfoil

Jackie Curran with students at St. Paul's

“I always say I’m not an unbiased source when I give tours.

"I’m class of 1995, my mother is class of 1973, my dad is class of 1971 and my grandmother was class of 1930. 

"The school has been in operation for 108 years, and there has been a family member either attending or working here for 90 of the 108 years.”

To say that St. Paul’s School in San Francisco is family to Jackie Curran is an understatement. 

“My great-grandparents were married in the church next door in 1912. My grandparents were married there in 1939, and I made my first communion in the church on my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary – like the exact date.”

On top of being a graduate, Curran taught first grade for 16 years prior to becoming St. Paul’s principal two years ago. 

“I think that’s helpful for new families,” said Curran, a member of the 22nd cohort of the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program. “Even though they may not have the same roots, to know that this is a place that people want to stay.”

St. Paul’s is a kindergarten through eighth-grade school located in San Francisco’s Noe Valley neighborhood. Their mission is to educate their diverse community of students in the Catholic faith.  

When Curran was first asked to become principal, this role was not something on her mind. She never expected to become a leader at St. Paul’s, but thinking about the lessons she taught in her first-grade classroom, she knew accepting this role was what was needed of her.

She also reflected on a saying from Mother Teresa.

“We have a convent for the Missionary Sisters of Charity of Mother Teresa, and one of her lines is, ‘You can’t do great things. You can only do small things with great love,” Curran said. “That’s kind of been my motto – small things with great love is what we do.”

One project that Curran is doing with great love is making sure St. Paul’s is still affordable for middle-class families.

“The housing costs in the city of San Francisco are crazy, right up there with Manhattan,” Curran noted. “They’re renting because they want their children not just to have a better education, but a Catholic education. I inherited a budget coming into my first year as principal that I was able to tweak a bit. In the second year constructing the budget, we purposely put in a line item for tuition assistance.” 

St. Paul’s started with their current families and helped those families receive tuition assistance through grant writing. The school was able to retain some families who were thinking about changing schools.

In the Archdiocese of San Francisco, Curran and all new principals were paired with a mentor to help build support through their diocese. She was paired with Sarah Currier, a Remick graduate who is now a mentor in the program. When they went to lunch one day, they discussed Curran’s new role. 

“I told her I wasn’t sure I wanted to be principal, but I love this school. I wanted to know at the end of the day that I have done everything in my power to prevent it from being closed,” Curran said. “I did not want to spend the rest of my life with what ifs.”

Currier’s response was to apply to the Remick Leadership Program. 

“Sarah said that all of the things you need to do as a first-year principal, you’ll do it with the support of other people going through the same things, professors, best practice research.”

Curran recently completed her first summer at Notre Dame as a Sobrato Family Scholar, thanks to support from John and Susan Sobrato.

“[The principal job] is such a nebulous role, and it’s so site-specific. The best practices and the research from Remick has been amazing,” Curran said. “To have that knowledge from a world class university like Notre Dame at my tiny little school is not something that was possible. I think the Sobrato family not only allows for Remick to have a different viewpoint, but allows California schools to learn what the rest of the country is doing and how better we can be. I mean, Catholic means universal, right?”

As Curran prepares for her second summer at Notre Dame, she is looking forward to being with her fellow cohort members and building on the community they have created so far.

“I’m definitely looking forward to reconnect with those people and the community and having that support system in place,” Curran said. “I’m looking forward to being able to experience it more deeply. I think year two summer is going to be a high point.”


Interested in learning more about becoming a Remick Leader?

Learn more about the program and apply online now.

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