Mary Ann Deschaine is a woman of faith. She is a woman of service. She is a woman who took a leap of faith.
After seven years as superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Saginaw in Michigan, Deschaine finds herself in Wheeling as the newly appointed superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.
“It’s a God thing,” Deschaine said with a smile when asked how the fifth-generation Michigan resident came to West Virginia. “This job came along when I wasn’t looking.”
“I met Mr. (Richard) Barnabei at a conference. Then, I ran into him at another conference, and then I literally ran into him at another meeting and I said, ‘I think we’re supposed to talk.’”
At the time, Barnabei was the acting superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and had announced his retirement. “Sometimes the door opens and you get pushed through it. I took a leap of faith and submitted my resume, was asked for an interview and here I am,” she said.
She began her career in education in Catholic schools, made the transition to public schools and then returned to Catholic schools.
“When I was considering the job as superintendent in Saginaw, my daughter told me she was praying on it, as was I. She told me, ‘Mom, it’s a God thing. I think you should go for it.’”
‘Mom, it’s a God thing. I think you should go for it.’
“I’m a woman of faith. Being able to walk in the faith and talk about God in an education environment,” is what draws her to Catholic schools. “I like to be where the action is, and that’s with the children.”
With that, don’t look for her to be sitting behind her desk much. Deschaine has planned to visit every one of the 25 diocese schools during the month of September. That’s 19 elementary schools and six high schools over 24,000 square miles.
“I’m excited to see the state. In Michigan, we primarily have pine trees. Seeing the fall leaves will be quite an experience.”
Deschaine’s vision is to have all diocese schools and parishes work together as one. “These are our Catholic schools. I want us to build upon the traditions already established and build our community. I want our parishes and schools to build a relationship and bond because we can’t have one without the other.”
In an effort to shape that bond, Deschaine will hold monthly principal/pastor meetings. Principals already are required to attend, but Deschaine is extending the invitation and encouraging the school pastors to attend as well.
“This will help the pastors and principals understand the importance of the partnership and hopefully give them the tools to have successful schools,” she explained. “Pastors are not taught school administration in seminary,” so Deschaine is hoping these meetings can help the bond between parish and school.
“I really have the bishop to thank,” Deschaine said in reference to the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston Bishop Michael J. Bransfield. “I’m just building on his vision for the diocese schools. He has laid the groundwork and done so much for our Catholic schools already.”
So, as the school year gets underway for many this week, Deschaine will rely on her “God thing” because, “This is where I belong,” she believes. She’ll spend time getting acquainted with the state, the school pastors, the school principals, faculty and staff.
“We’re all Catholic, and we all have gifts. We can bring those gifts to our schools and build a community. We’re all in this together to have our kids leave us as faith-filled individuals with good hearts.”
• Chana Baker is a freelance writer and instructor of literacy, composition and literature at West Virginia Northern Community College. She holds a bachelor’s degree in communications, specializing in journalism, and a master’s degree in English and creative writing.